RSA Journal
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RSA Journal

Charting loneliness

Loneliness is increasingly recognised as a public health issue, but to tackle it effectively we need to be able to accurately distinguish between the many forms it can take

Defining loneliness

  • sociologist Peter Townsend defined loneliness as a perceived deprivation in social contact
  • Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo define it as perceived social isolation
  • professor of public health Mima Cattan defines it as the unwelcome feeling that accompanies isolation.
  • first, that loneliness relates to a perceived deficiency in social relationships
  • second, that it is a subjective experience
  • and finally, that the experience is aversive.
  • social loneliness, which is linked to a lack of a social network
  • and emotional loneliness, which is linked to an absence of emotional attachment.
  • situational loneliness’, when one becomes lonely in response to a situation or event
  • and ‘chronic loneliness’, which can be thought of as a persistent state.

Loneliness and depression

Physical aloneness and solitude

  • physical aloneness (a physical separation from others)
  • and solitude (a state of being alone where one does not feel lonely or isolated).

Social isolation

Complexity in loneliness

How do we tackle loneliness?



The award-winning RSA Journal is a quarterly publication for our Fellows, featuring the latest cutting-edge ideas from international writers alongside RSA news. A selection of articles have been reproduced here.

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