Is spending time alone good for us? - study

New research from Bar-Ilan University indicates that people will feel better if they are alone by choice than if they are with others not by choice.

Israelis sit down to eat with friends at a restaurant in an ad campaign by the Health Ministry to encourage vaccination for COVID-19. (photo credit: HEALTH MINISTRY)
Israelis sit down to eat with friends at a restaurant in an ad campaign by the Health Ministry to encourage vaccination for COVID-19.
(photo credit: HEALTH MINISTRY)

As humans, social interaction is essential to every aspect of our health. But having time to yourself is also critical to growth and development. So which is preferred? 

It all comes down to choice

A new study by researchers from Bar-Ilan University in Israel has found that the element of choice in our daily social interactions plays a key role in our well-being. According to the findings, people will feel better if they are alone by choice than if they are with others not by choice. Yet being in the company of others by choice contributes most to improving sense of well-being at any given moment.

The new study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, suggests that our sense of  choice of being with others (or of being alone) is a central factor which shapes our feelings in these contexts. The research notes that choice matters more "with others" than alone because experiences with others are more powerful.

The research involved two studies: an experiment that manipulated social context and choice status, and a ten-day experience-sampling study, which explored these variables in real-life settings.

Aerial view of Bar-Ilan University (credit: BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY/CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)/VIA WIKIMEDIA)Aerial view of Bar-Ilan University (credit: BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY/CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)/VIA WIKIMEDIA)

The experience-sampling study examined 155 students. Each participant reported three times a day for ten consecutive days on episodic social experiences. Participants were asked in each "sample" to report on their social status (alone/with other people), whether they were in this situation by choice or not by choice, and their feelings (positive or negative emotion, satisfaction, sense of meaning, and sense of control).

"Intense" social experiences

In total, more than 4,200 episodic reports were received. Of these, people were with others 60% of the time and alone 40% of the time. They were in these situations by their choice in 64% of the situations, and not by their choice in 36%. This indicates that the students spent about a third of their daytime in non-chosen social (or alone) situations. 

Participants expressed greater happiness in the company of others than in being alone. However, there were large differences in the experience of being with others. The greatest degree of happiness was felt when in the company of others by choice, but the lowest degree of happiness when in the company of others not by choice.

Dr. Liad Uziel, who led the research, also conducted a previous study on the topic. The earlier findings revealed that social situations intensify emotions, while being alone was linked to calmer emotions and to a more relaxed overall experience. "The current research expands upon these conclusions by learning about people's experiences in real life, outside the lab, and by addressing the choice element as an important moderating factor," Uziel said. "In both cases, social experiences are more intense, for better or worse."