Feeling different from others, having few social contacts, feeling excluded, or experiencing a lack of quality in social relations. Everyone knows the unpleasant feelings that come with loneliness, but what if you have been experiencing these feelings for a long time? Loneliness in old age is a well-known phenomenon, but that loneliness also peaks in youth is less well known. The proximity project studies loneliness among adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15.

Chronic loneliness in adolescents
It is often thought that loneliness in adolescents is a phase that passes, but loneliness is chronic in three to ten percent of the adolescents, resulting in all kinds of serious psychological and physical problems. The Proximity Project, which is led by Gerine Lodder, investigates what social processes can explain why some young people are lonely temporarily and others more permanently.

Daily fluctuations in loneliness
The Proximity Project team will use the experience sampling method (ESM) and Bluetooth beacons to measure loneliness and social contact during the day. Beacons are small, wireless transmitters that use Bluetooth technology to send signals to other smart devices nearby. The plan is to provide 300 lower-grade high school pupils with Bluetooth beacons all day long, even after school hours. The Bluetooth data provide a lot of information about contact with others, especially because whole classes participate in the research. In addition, the high school pupils receive questions via their smartphones (with experience sampling) to indicate their feelings of loneliness (their affect) and to measure how they value and experience their contacts.

Loneliness in the long term
Data are collected in a longitudinal study of 3 measurements to study loneliness in the long term. The longitudinal study focuses on long-term loneliness and investigates general aspects of loneliness, friendship networks, and social appraisals (i.e., how adolescents evaluate their social contacts).

Tailor-made interventions
The aim of the study is to help adolescents with chronic feelings of loneliness by developing tailor-made interventions. What works well for one youngster does not necessarily work well for another. Just as feelings of loneliness are caused by different circumstances, the solution will also differ per individual.

Taboo around loneliness
Gerine Lodder actively seeks out the media in order to break the taboo of loneliness among adolescents. It is important that adolescents dare to talk about the subject, and that we regularly ask adolescents about their social contacts.

Project team
The project team consists of Gerine Lodder (principal researcher), Tess Bombeeck (junior researcher) and Georgia Lucassen (student-assistant). The Proximity Project is funded by an NWO-VENI grant. The pilot starts around January 2020 and the data collection around September 2020.

Want to know more? You can watch this short video:

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