Loneliness loves company, some more than others: social ties, form of engagement, and their relation to loneliness
Social Problems, 1–18 (2021)
Although tie strength is a significant theoretical concept in the field, recent work suggests that other dimensions of social ties may be important to consider. We build on this body of work to propose that situational form of engagement with various interaction partners play a vital role in shaping feelings of loneliness. We anticipate that when engaging in direct forms of engagement (active engagement), the association between different types of social ties and loneliness will be minimal. In contrast, while engaging in less direct forms of engagement (passive engagement), such as mere co-presence, the particular type of social tie may matter more in reducing loneliness. We test these expectations using original time-diary data capturing daily interactions and momentary feelings of loneliness. Results show that active engagement associates with reduced feelings of loneliness relative to passive engagement. Further, we find that the benefit of active engagement over passive engagement is greatest among acquaintances and family members. We interpret this as indicating that active engagement is beneficial for establishing a sense of connection among some social ties that already exists for other social ties. These findings indicate that both how we engage with others and the kinds of people we engage with jointly shape the benefits of social interaction.