A novel experimental approach to identifying the cognitive mechanisms underlying loneliness

Dino Zagic*, Ronald M. Rapee, Viviana M. Wuthrich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Current models of loneliness emphasise the role of maladaptive cognitions in causing and/or maintaining loneliness. However, standardised paradigms to experimentally examine the role of maladaptive cognition in loneliness are lacking, making it difficult to establish causality. This paper tested a mock online chat paradigm designed to induce changes in negative affect (loneliness, depression, and anxiety), and strength of belief in lonely thoughts, by manipulating comparative and normative fit. Methods: Participants (N = 59) were randomised into either the loneliness arm (i.e., loneliness induction chat followed by a social connectedness induction chat), or the social connectedness arm (i.e., two separate social connectedness induction chats), and subsequently completed outcome measures. Results: The experimental paradigm significantly and specifically increased lonely affect; however, this was associated with non-significant changes in strength of belief in lonely thoughts. The social connectedness induction chat led to significant reductions in broad negative affect for both groups, with these effects accruing across chats for participants in the social connectedness arm. Conclusion: Experimentally manipulating comparative and normative fit to either emphasise differences or similarities between an individual and group members is an effective paradigm for increasing lonely affect or decreasing general negative affect, respectively.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCognitive Therapy and Research
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 May 2024


  • affect
  • comparative fit
  • induction
  • loneliness
  • normative fit
  • paradigm
  • social connectedness


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