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Sean Seepersad, Ph.D.
Sean Seepersad Ph.D.

Can Pokémon Go Reduce Loneliness?

Revising the debate on whether the Internet causes loneliness.

Source: BagoGames/Flickr

Pokémon Go is all the rage now. It certainly caught me by surprise to see the dramatic rise in popularity of this app within a week. Reports are that it is more popular than Tinder and Twitter and being used more than Facebook. It is translating into stocks of Nintendo doubling in value. And if you need a visual of just how big this craze has become, there is this wonderful YouTube video of Pokémon Go players flooding Central Park in New York City, presumably to catch Vaporeon: a rare Pokémon.

What is also interesting about Pokémon Go are the reports that it is actually having positive effects on individuals. Here’s one article showing various Twitter quotes from players claiming it is helping with their mental health and depression. Here is another article containing a collection from players reporting that it has helped their mental health. More important that just “mental health” a lot of them were also using the words “socialize” emphasizing that Pokémon Go is actually helping people connect with one another.

Pokémon Go represents an interesting twist on the 18 year debate on the whether the Internet causes loneliness. In 1998, Kraut et al. published their famous “Internet Paradox” study, which found that greater use of the Internet caused increases in loneliness. It was a paradox because socializing and communicating was one of the more important functions of the Internet. How could a partly social tool result in increased loneliness? The debate evolved as the Internet evolved and much of the studies today focus more specifically on social media. For example, Song et al. (2014) did a meta-analysis of eight studies looking at whether Facebook usage causes loneliness. Across the studies they have found that lonely people tended to use Facebook more, but using Facebook more didn’t necessarily lead to loneliness. However, the question may really come down to, how are people using Facebook? Burke, Marlow, & Lento (2010) in a comprehensive longitudinal study found that individuals who use Facebook for communication with friends had lower levels of loneliness than those who used Facebook to consume content.

Sherry Turkle in her book Alone Together (and subsequent Ted Talk) argued, for example, that technology itself was changing how we communicate with each other and view relationships. A recent study by Pittman and Reich (2016) looked at Instagram usage and loneliness hypothesizing that imaged-based social media has a different effect on users than text-based social media. Indeed their results of 274 undergrads in their study found that they were happier, less lonely and more satisfied with life the more they used image-based social media. In addition to just how we use certain social media, it is possible that certain formats on the Internet can have varying effects on loneliness. Pittman and Reich (2016) study seems to suggest that formats can play a significant role in affecting loneliness.

This brings us to gaming and the Pokémon Go phenomenon. Obviously there is no research as yet on if Pokémon Go is making players less lonely. However, there are researches on whether World of Warcraft (WoW) has any effect on loneliness. I wrote a previous blog on a publication done in 2013, which found no significant relationship between WoW usage and loneliness. In a more recent study, Marton and Lokša (2015) looked at whether players felt less lonely and less socially anxious in WoW than in the real world. They received 161 responses from players of WoW (primarily male, 88%) and found that these players had less loneliness and social anxiety while they were in this virtual environment than in real life. The construct of the game somehow made socializing and interacting with one another easier than in the real world. It appears that Pokémon Go may be doing the same thing. In fact, some argue Pokémon Go is a much better way to find dates than other popular apps like Tinder: see here and here.

In the age-old argument does the Internet cause loneliness, I guess the answers are beginning to hinge on not only how you use it, but also what you are using on the Internet. Some social media tools seem to be better at facilitating connection than others.

For more on loneliness, visit Web of Loneliness.


Burke, M., Marlow, C., & Lento, T. (2010). Social network activity and social well-being. In Proceedings of the 28th international conference on Human factors in computing systems - CHI ’10 (p. 4). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press.

Kraut, R., Patterson, M., Lundmark, V., Kiesler, S., Mukopadhyay, T., & Scherlis, W. (1998). Internet Paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being? American Psychologist, 53(9), 1017–1031.

Marton, M. & Lokša, J. (2015). Do World of Warcraft (MMORPG) players experience less loneliness and social anxiety in online world (virtual environment) than in real
world (offline)? Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 127-134.

Pittman, M. & Reich, B. (2016). Social media and loneliness: Why an Instagram picture may be worth more than a thousand Twitter words. Computers in Human Behavior, 62, 155-167.

Song, H., Zmyslinski-Seelig, A., Kim, J., Drent, A., Victor, A., Omori, K., Allen, M. (2014). Does Facebook make you lonely?: A meta analysis. Computers in Human Behavior, 36, 446-452.

About the Author
Sean Seepersad, Ph.D.

Sean Seepersad, Ph.D. is the President/CEO of the Web of Loneliness Institute, Inc., adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut, and author of The Lonely Screams.

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