Purpose: The importance of both frequent and high-quality social connections is widely recognised. Previous reviews of interventions for promoting social connections found mixed results due to the inclusion of uncontrolled studies and merging of objective and subjective dimensions of social connections. This study aimed to compare the effectiveness of interventions designed to promote ‘objective social contact’ and the ‘quality of social connections’; and compare the effectiveness of interventions from different theoretical orientations on these social dimensions through a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials.
Methods: A systematic search of electronic databases Medline, Embase, PsycINFO and PubMed was conducted to identify randomised controlled trials of interventions for social isolation, loneliness, social participation and/or social connectedness in adults. Data were analysed using Stata V.16.0.
Results: Fifty-eight studies met inclusion criteria (mean age = 62 years). Overall, interventions led to significant improvements in objective social contact (Hedges’ g = 0.43) and perceived quality of social connections (Hedges’ g = − 0.33). Increasing access to other people was the most effective strategy for promoting objective social contact (Hedges’ g = 0.67). Providing adults with skills to manage maladaptive attributional biases, fear-related avoidance of social situations, and barriers to social contact, was the most effective strategy for addressing deficits in perceived quality of social connections (Hedges’ g = − 0.53).
Conclusion: In summary, different interventions had differential effects on the frequency and quality of social relationships and associated emotional distress. Psychological interventions hold the most promise for increasing meaningful social connections and reducing distress.
- social isolation
- Social participation
- social connectedness