Being Alone And Loneliness Are Two Separate Things

Andy Hab
3 min readNov 13, 2023

A critical threshold for being alone and age differences in loneliness

Isn’t being alone kind of instrumental to loneliness?

Yes, we would think so — but this distinction is not as obvious as it sounds. Consider the concept of the wise man sitting alone in a cave. Indeed, as I reported before (see links below), wisdom seems to make us almost immune to loneliness.

Oh, so what does contribute to loneliness then?

I won’t repeat what I reported previously (again see links below), but rather on this recent study by Lisa Bergman et al. of the University of Arizona. They conducted a study of over 400 people that tracked their daily interactions and therefore gave a good quantifiable measure of when and precisely how long people were alone and matched this to feelings of loneliness.

And what were the results?

Well, there is a correlation to being alone and being lonely but this is only after a certain stage and for certain ages.

So they found that a major cut off point is spending time alone for more than 75% of time. Below this it didn’t seem to correlate to loneliness — so you can spend two thirds of your time alone but this won’t make you feel lonely. However, once it goes over 75% then you are much more likely to feel lonely. But only in older people!

Only in older people?

Yes, only in older people. It seems that the rules of loneliness for younger people are different. For them they can be with a lot of people and still feel lonely, or be with nobody and not feel lonely. This is probably more to do with types of social connection and how they are connected — or left out.

Older people also having shrinking social networks and I am sure this contributes.

So, still get out and make connections in older age?!

Yes, indeed. It seems that having social connections and not being alone is important for older people — for those younger, there are other factors at play, which include value of social connections, and personality. Read posts referenced below for more information.

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Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!