Health

Study suggests high-quality social interactions can protect against depressed mood

How important are social interactions to individual’s happiness? A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests that increasing social interaction, something that has been difficult through the coronavirus pandemic, can lead to lower rates of loneliness and depression.

Amid the rise of COVID-19, people became concerned about how social distancing and isolation measures could be detrimental to people’s social lives and mental health. Research reveals that quarantine did result in higher levels of loneliness and depression, and these effects were worsened for individuals who needed to quarantine for longer. This is consistent with previous studies that revealed how important social interaction and relationships are for people’s happiness and wellbeing.

Researcher Adam Kuczynski and his colleagues sought to “identify the components of daily social interactions that are associated with changes in depressed mood and loneliness” through this study. They collected an adult sample from King County, Washington, who were recruited through ads on social media, flyers given out at the grocery store, local news articles, and other locations.

Their sample included 515 adult participants. Participants completed daily surveys for 75 days in a row, which were prompted by text message at 7:30 pm nightly. Their sample also completed measures on depression, loneliness, social interaction quantity, perceived responsiveness, and vulnerable self-disclosure.

Results showed that individuals who share in more social interactions, more self-disclosures, and feel people are being more responsive to them show lower levels of depression and loneliness. Increased social interaction, no matter what the individual’s baseline is, can be a protective factor.

This study found that increased vulnerable self-disclosure was linked to higher depression and loneliness when individual’s felt there was greater responsiveness. This is inconsistent with similar recent research. The effect of quality and quantity of social interaction was similar for both loneliness and depressed mood, showing a strong relationship between these two variables.

Despite the many strengths of this study, such as the longitudinal design and daily data collection, it also has some limitations. It is difficult to know if these results would be different if participants were sampled more or less frequently.

This study also cannot rule out the possibility of reverse causality, such as that instead of social interactions changing individual’s levels of depression, depression may be changing individual’s frequency of social interactions. Lastly, it is possible that due to this data being collected at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would not generalize to everyday life.

“Concerns about the possible effects of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted several gaps in our knowledge about the association between social interactions and mental health,” The researchers concluded. “The current study aimed to characterize the unique effect of social interaction quantity and quality on daily depressed mood and loneliness and to identify the degree to which these processes operate at the within-person and between-person levels of analysis.”

“Results suggest that social interactions in general, and perceived responsiveness in particular, may protect against depressed mood and loneliness independent of one’s trait levels of these variables. Substantial heterogeneity in these effects was observed, however, and future research should focus on identifying factors that predict this heterogeneity.”

The study, “The effect of social interaction quantity and quality on depressed mood and loneliness: A daily diary study“, was authored by

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