To test whether 2 weeks of smartphone-based mindfulness interventions would reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation, Emily K. Lindsay, PhD, and colleagues assessed a group of adults assigned to one of three 14-lesson, individually delivered, smartphone-based interventions.

“We aimed to test what active ingredients of mindfulness interventions are important for reducing loneliness (eg, is it important to practice mindfulness in a group setting to gain social relationship benefits, or is it more about learning mindfulness skills specifically?),” says Dr. Lindsay. “We hypothesized that learning mindfulness-specific skills of present-moment awareness (‘monitoring’) and an attitude of openness and acceptance toward these experiences (‘acceptance’) change a person’s relationship to experiences of loneliness and social isolation.”

Study participants were categorized into three groups: 1) training in both monitoring and acceptance (monitor+accept); 2) training in monitoring only (monitor only); or 3) active control training. Monitor+accept training reduced daily-life loneliness by 22% and increased social contact by two more interactions and one more person each day, compared with both monitor only and control trainings.

“These findings suggest that learning to welcome and accept present-moment experiences (ie, body sensations, emotions, thoughts, etc.) is a critical ingredient of mindfulness training for improving social relationship outcomes,” says Dr. Lindsay. “Instead of trying to avoid or push away unpleasant or uncomfortable experiences (like feelings of loneliness), practice in embracing and allowing these experiences to arise and pass on their own time is an effective way of processing them. This welcoming, receptive, open attitude was effective for reducing feelings of loneliness in this study, and we’ve also shown that it’s effective for reducing biological stress reactivity and boosting positive emotions in daily life.”

Dr. Lindsay adds that the current study tested for changes from before to immediately after the 2-week training, so it will be important to test whether the effects of the training are maintained over a longer period and whether continued formal mindfulness meditation practice is necessary for maintaining effects (or whether the skills become a more automatic way of responding in daily life after the 2-week training period).