Background: More than half of adults in Germany have felt lonely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous studies highlight the importance of boosting positive emotions and social connectedness to combat loneliness. However, interventions targeting these protective psychosocial resources remain largely untested.
Objective: In this study, we aim to test the feasibility of a short animated storytelling video, written messages boosting social connectedness, and a combination of both for alleviating loneliness.
Methods: We enrolled 252 participants who were 18 years or older and spoke fluent German. Participants were recruited from a previous study on loneliness in Germany. We measured the effects of a combination of an animated video and written messages (intervention A), an animated video (intervention B), and written messages (intervention C) on loneliness, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and hope. We compared these with a control arm, which did not receive any intervention. The animated video was developed by Stanford University School of Medicine to reflect experiences of social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic and convey messages of hope and solidarity. The written messages communicate four findings from recent studies on loneliness in Germany: (1) over a period of 6 months, 66% of respondents in Germany reported feeling lonely (feelings of loneliness are surprisingly common); (2) physical activity can ease feelings of loneliness; (3) focusing on "what really matters" in one's life can help to ease feelings of loneliness; and (4) turning to friends for companionship and support can ease feelings of loneliness. Participants were randomized 1:1:1:1 to interventions A, B, C, and the control condition, using the randomization feature of the web-based platform "Unipark," on which our trial takes place. Both the study investigators and analysts were blinded to the trial assignments. The primary outcome, loneliness, was measured using the short-form UCLA Loneliness Scale (ULS-8). Our secondary outcomes included the scores of the Coping with Loneliness Questionnaire, the 10-item Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE), the 10-item General Self-Efficacy Scale, and the 12-item Adult Hope Scale (AHS).
Results: We observed no statistically significant effect of the tested interventions on loneliness scores, controlling for the baseline loneliness score before an intervention (all P values >.11). However, we observed significantly greater intention to cope with loneliness after exposure to an animated video when compared with the control (β=4.14; t248=1.74; 1-tailed P=.04).
Conclusions: Our results provide meaningful evidence for the feasibility of a full-scale study. Our study sheds light on the intention to cope with loneliness and explores the potential for creative digital interventions to enhance this psychological precursor, which is integral to overcoming loneliness.
Trial registration: German Clinical Trials Register DRKS00027116; https://drks.de/search/en/trial/DRKS00027116.
Keywords: digital knowledge; entertainment media; health communication; perceived social isolation.
©Shuyan Liu, Luisa Wegner, Matthias Haucke, Jennifer Gates, Maya Adam, Till Bärnighausen. Originally published in JMIR Formative Research (https://formative.jmir.org), 07.06.2023.