Bianca Ledur1, Marina Schmitt, Luana Thereza Nesi de Mello2 and Ilana Andretta
DOI: https://doi.org/10.26619/2183-4806.XVIII.1.3
Submitted on 3.06.21 Submetido a 3.06.21
Acceptted on 15.11.21 Aceite a 15.11.21
The internet is part of everyday life, used primarily for communication and social interac-
tion. It can also be used to fulfill emotional needs (e.g., loneliness, depression, etc.) and, through
abusive use, might assist in developing a dependency on social networks. This study is part of a
larger research conducted with college students at a private university in southern Brazil. This
is a quantitative, correlational, cross-sectional study. It included 124 college students that had
a mean age of 23.7 years (SD = 8.1; Min 18; Max 58), and of which 91 (73.4%) were female. The
participants were students of six schools of knowledge from the university. As an inclusion cri-
terion, it was considered only users of social media; it was evidenced, however, that 100% of the
participants used WhatsApp. The study aimed to analyze possible associations between internet
addiction and feelings of loneliness, through the instruments Sociodemographic Questionnaire,
Internet Addiction Test (IAT) and Brazilian Loneliness Scale (UCLA-BR). The results found a sig-
nificant positive association between Internet addiction and feelings of loneliness (rs = .425; p
< .01), concluding that problematic Internet use among college students may be a risk factor for
developing or enhancing feelings of loneliness and vice versa. Thus, future research and inter-
vention development should pay attention to the effects of Internet addiction on this aspect of
mental health.
Keywords: Internet; Loneliness; Solitude; University students.
1 Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos (Unisinos), São Leopoldo, Brazil
2 Universidade do Algarve (UAlg), Faro, Portugal
Authors Notes:
Bianca Ledur, https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4417-0581 – ledurbianca@gmail.com (corresponding author)
Marina Schmitt https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5840-6228 – marinasschmitt@gmail.com
Luana Thereza Nesi de Mello http://orcid.org/0000-0003-4139-6681 luana.nesi@gmail.com
Ilana Andretta http://orcid.org/0000-0002-5537-5120 ilana.andretta@gmail.com
Bianca Ledur, Marina Schmitt, Luana Thereza Nesi de Mello, Ilana Andretta
PSIQUE • e-ISSN 2183-4806 • Volume XVIII • Issue Fascículo 1 • 1st january janeiro-30th june junho 2022 pp. 49-59
A internet é parte do dia a dia, usada principalmente para comunicação e interação social.
Também pode ser usada para suprir necessidades emocionais (exemplo solidão, depressão, entre
outras) e, através do uso abusivo, pode ajudar no desenvolvimento de uma dependência das
redes sociais. Este estudo é parte de uma pesquisa maior conduzida com estudantes universitá-
rios de uma universidade do sul do Brasil. É um estudo quantitativo, correlacional e transversal.
Participaram do estudo 124 estudantes universitários, com média de idade de 23.7 anos (SD = 8.1;
Min 18; Max 58), e com 91 (73.4%) eram do sexo feminino. Os participantes eram de seis esco-
las de saber da universidade. Como critério de inclusão, os estudantes tiveram que utilizar ao
menos uma mídia social, e 100% deles utilizavam o WhatsApp. Este estudo teve como objetivo
analisar as possíveis associações entre dependência de internet e sentimentos de solidão, através
do Questionário Sociodemografico, Internet Addiction Test (IAT) and Brazilian Loneliness Scale
(UCLA-BR). Os resultados encontraram significativas e positvas associações entre dependência
de internet e sentimentos de solidão (rs = .425; p < .01), concluindo que o uso problemático de
internet dos estudantes universitários pode ser um fator de risco para o desenvolvimento ou
potencialização de sentimento de solidão e vice-versa. Estudos futuros e intervenções podem
atentar-se para os efeitos da dependência de internet no âmbito da saúde mental.
Palavras-chave: Internet; Solidão; Solitude; Estudantes Universitários.
The development of the internet and its uses is unstopping (Carter & Grover, 2015) indicating
that the usage of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) will not decrease. As a
matter of fact, especially among university students, it has been growing in the last decade (Car-
bonell et al., 2018). In multiple studies, the vast majority of these students stated that they either
had a Smartphone or used at least one online social media (Çikrikçi, 2019; Fermann et al., 2021;
Lima et al., 2017; Tangmunkongvorakul et al., 2019). This rise in social media usage in undergrad-
uates is part of what could be leading to the increase of the internet addiction prevalence among
these students (Carbonell, et al., 2018).
As described by Young (1998), the creator of the term, internet addiction is an inability to
control excessive and impulsive use of online features, even as it causes problems to ones social,
familiar, working and/or academic life – for exemple getting late or not attending to important
appointments due to internet usage, constantly thinking about getting online when offline, feel-
ing as if life without the internet would be empty, not being able to do housework because of
the amount of time spent online. Among university students, this addiction is related to several
mental health variables, such as higher depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms (Niero et al.,
2019; Ostovar et al., 2016; Younes et al., 2016). As a matter of fact, depression, anxiety and stress
appear to be in high levels among such students (Wörfel et al.,2016), along with loneliness (Pelt-
zer & Pengpid, 2017). While all four psychological variables are positively associated with each
other (Peltzer & Pengpid, 2017; Schmitt et al., 2021), feeling lonely is referred to be one of the most
PSIQUE • e-ISSN 2183-4806 • Volume XVIII • Issue Fascículo 1 • 1st january janeiro-30th june junho 2022 pp. 49-59
Relationship between internet addiction and feelings of loneliness in university students
from a private institution southern Brazil
harmful mental distress for university students, being associated with poorer mental and physi-
cal health in general and higher substance abuse (Peltzer & Pengpid, 2017).
It is suggested that, due to poor emotional regulation and lack of healthy ways to deal with
unpleasant psychological symptoms, mental distress would cause the person to seek relief
online, which would increase such distress overtime, resulting in an internet addiction (Faghani
et al., 2020). Most notably, loneliness seems to be regarded as a predictor of internet addiction not
only in undergraduates (Eijnden, 2014; Murat, 2019), but also among the general population, since
internet use might, momentarily, decrease lonely feelings and that would reinforce such usage in
an addictive way (Peltzer & Pengpid, 2017).
Loneliness is defined as the feeling of being emotionally alone, although not necessarily
physically isolated from other people (Cacioppo et al., 2010). In 25 countries, feeling lonely was
associated with poorer mental and physical health, greater aggressiveness, and a higher risk
of substance abuse among university students (Peltzer & Pengpid, 2017). Because loneliness is
based on ones perception of the environment, Pittman and Reich (2016) proposed that internet
usage might decrease such feelings, especially if online social media is used in order to see or
hear other people (e.g., watching videos and seeing photos). Thus, the use of online environments
could potentially make one feel as if emotionally close to others, therefore reducing the sense of
being lonely. As a matter of fact, other authors suggest that internet use may lower loneliness lev-
els (Facioli & Do Prado, 2018; Pessoni, 2018). Therefore, even though it is indicated that loneliness
could predict internet addiction precisely because using online spaces would decrease lonely
feelings momentarily and that would reinforce the usage (Peltzer & Pengpid, 2017), internet use
in general might be seen as beneficial to mental health. In fact, among university students, it is
noted that online social media was perceived as helpful in creating and maintaining relation-
ships with others (Lima et al., 2017).
It is also suggested that the relationship between internet addiction and loneliness among
university students varies since such association is very complex (Eijnden, 2014; Murat, 2019;
Pontes et al., 2014). Its complexity is apparent through the discrepancy found in literature – per-
haps because of not understanding the aspects of the relation between the two variables, it is
suggested that internet use, in general, might be beneficial to lonely feelings in undergraduates
(Lima et al., 2017), whereas it is also indicated that loneliness would be a predictor of internet
addiction among that same population (Eijnden, 2014; Murat, 2019). This implies that it is neces-
sary to study about the subject, since it is needed to understand it further. It is not known what
aspects of loneliness, exactly, internet addiction are associated with, nor is it known accurately
what aspects of feeling lonely are increased or reduced by the addiction in question. Thus, this
research aimed to understand the relationship between these two variables among university
students by assessing the construct of loneliness in detail. By separating the Brazilian Loneliness
Scale (UCLA-BR) and considering it item by item in a correlational statistical analysis, the present
goal was to assess the associations between Internet Addiction and each of the UCLA-BR items
in a sample of undergraduates from a private university from the south of Brazil. This subject has
become increasingly important to study, as the Covid-19 pandemic, present since the beginning
(World Health Organization, 2020), the academic life, especially in Brazil, has suddenly changed
and internet use became an even bigger part university students’ routine, affecting their mental
health because of it (Arruda, 2020; Gundim et al., 2020; Lima et al., 2020).
Bianca Ledur, Marina Schmitt, Luana Thereza Nesi de Mello, Ilana Andretta
PSIQUE • e-ISSN 2183-4806 • Volume XVIII • Issue Fascículo 1 • 1st january janeiro-30th june junho 2022 pp. 49-59
Material & Methods
This study has a correlational, exploratory, quantitative, and cross-sectional design (Sam-
pieri et al., 2013).
This study had a sample of 124 university students, in which 33 (26.6%) were male, and 91
(73.4%) were female. The mean age was 23.7 years (SD = 8.1; Min 18; Max 58), and 105 (85.4%) of
the participants claimed to be single. As an inclusion criterion, at least one social media should
be used, one hundred percent of participants (n = 124) used WhatsApp.
The student’s major concentration was in three courses: Law (Law School; n = 23, 18.5%), Psy-
chology (Health School; n = 17, 13.7%) and Journalism (Creative Industries School; n = 10, 8.1%).
All Sociodemographic data are shown in Table 1.
Sociodemografic Data (n = 124)
Variables n%
Between 18 and 22 85 68,5
Above 26 years old 24 19,4
Between 23 and 25 15 12,1
3rd and 4th 47 37.9
5th and 6th 33 26.6
1st and 2nd 28 22.6
7th and 8th 16 12.9
University Schools
Health 41 33.1
Law 23 18.5
Creative Industries 19 15.3
Polytechnic 17 13.7
Business 13 10.5
Humanities 11 8.9
Are you employed?
Yes 88 71.0
No 36 29.0
Do you do psychotherapy?
No 104 83.9
Yes 20 16.1
Do you have any psychological or psychiatric diagnosis?
No 110 88.7
Yes 14 11.3
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Relationship between internet addiction and feelings of loneliness in university students
from a private institution southern Brazil
To access university students, data was collected at a Brazilian private university, in the state
of Rio Grande do Sul. This study is part of one major survey, which had the University Ethics
Committee approval (CEP nº 2.289.637).
The sample of the present study was randomized. During the year of 2018, at the beginning of
both semesters, the research group received a list of all graduation classes that were happening, and
these were chosen at random by an online software at: sorteador.com. After selecting the classes,
according to the percentage of students in each of the six schools of the university, the correspond-
ing professor was emailed about the research, and data collection only started after the professors
agreed to let their class participation. If the researchers request were denied, another class would
have to be randomly picked and its professor would have to grant permission for the data collection.
For the data collection, trained researchers would go to each class and invite its students to
take part in the study. The ones that gave consent would be given the survey’s instruments to
answer, as well as a Termo de Consentimento Livre e Esclarecido (Free and Clarified Consent
Term – TCLE), a document they would have to sign that attested that, knowing exactly what the
survey was, they agreed to participate.
This study had a random sample of 124 university students. Criteria for participation included
being at least 18 years old, making use of at least one online social media, being registered in at
least one of the university graduation courses, and answering the instruments used in this study
to completion. The Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS), version 20.0, was used for data
analyses. In the present research, only self-report instruments were used.
Sociodemographic Questionnaire: developed by the ICCEP research group. It was meant to
access sample characteristics, as in sex, age, graduation course and social media usage (as in,
which social media is used and for which purposes). It also includes the Critério de Classificação
Econômica Brasil (“Brazilian Economic Classification Criteria”) questionnaire (Associação Bra-
sileira de Empresas de Pesquisa – ABEP, 2015), to identify the samples sociodemographic data.
The Internet Addiction Test (IAT; Young 1998, adapted to Brazilian population by Conti et
al., 2012): this instrument evaluates one’s level of Internet Addiction. That is: “no dependence”,
“mild dependence”, “moderate dependence” and “severe dependence”. IAT has 20 questions, for
example:1. Com que frequência você acha que passa mais tempo na internet do que pretendia?” (“1.
How often do you think you spend more time on the Internet than you intended?”), which are
answered through a Likert five-point scale: from “1- Rarely” to “5- Always. Its Cronbach alpha
for this study was: 0.92.
The Brazilian Loneliness Scale (UCLA-BR; Russell et al., 1978; adapted to portuguese by Bar-
roso et al., 2016): it is an instrument that evaluates feelings of Loneliness through a four-point
Likert Scale: from “1- Never” to “4- Always. It has 20 questions, for example: “3. Eu sinto que não
tenho companhia (“3. I lack companionship”), and, in the present study, it’s Cronbach alpha was:
0,94. For the purpose of this research, to access Loneliness in detail, every item of the UCLA-BR
was, separately, taken into account. Therefore, not only was the UCLA-BR total assessed for asso-
ciations with the IAT total, but each of UCLA-BR questions was also used to evaluate a potential
relationship between itself and IAT total.
Bianca Ledur, Marina Schmitt, Luana Thereza Nesi de Mello, Ilana Andretta
PSIQUE • e-ISSN 2183-4806 • Volume XVIII • Issue Fascículo 1 • 1st january janeiro-30th june junho 2022 pp. 49-59
Data Analysis
First, descriptive statistics were used to describe the samples characteristics. Then, before
the correlation analyses, it was necessary to assess the normality of the sample. Thus, the Kol-
mogorov-Smirnov Test (p < .05) was used, with the Lilliefors correlation. It was attested that the
sample of the present study was not normal, suggesting that, to evaluate the statistical associa-
tion between the variables, it was best to use the Spearman correlation test.
To measure the correlations, the following ranges were adopted: .1 to .3 is a weak correlation;
.4 to .7 is a moderate correlation; .8 to 1 is a strong correlation (Dancey & Reidy, 2011).
It was assessed that 56.5% (n = 70) of the sample had some level of Internet Addiction. More
specifically, 49 (39.5%) had mild Addiction, 19 (15.3%) had moderate Addiction and two (1.6%)
had severe Internet Addiction. Regarding Loneliness, 57.3% (n = 71) had minimum Loneliness
feelings, whereas 30.6% (n = 38), 10.5% (n = 13), and 1.6% (n = 2) had mild, moderate and severe
Loneliness feelings, respectively.
Between Internet Addiction and general Loneliness, Spearman correlation test found signi-
ficant positive correlations (p < .01; see Table 2). When assessing possible associations between
Internet Addiction and each UCLA-BR item, items 1, 2, and 20, exclusively, did not appear to be
related to the addiction in question (p > .05; see Table 2).
Relation Between Internet Addiction and Loneliness
UCLA variables Internet Addiction
UCLA 6 – There is no one I can turn to .426*
UCLA Total .425*
UCLA 8 – My interests and ideas are not shared by those around me .418*
UCLA 14 – No one really knows me well .413*
UCLA 15 – I feel isolated from others .404*
UCLA 19 – People are around me but not with me .390**
UCLA 18 – I feel shut out and excluded by others .380*
UCLA 16 – I am unhappy being so withdrawn .379*
UCLA 7 – I am no longer close to anyone .371*
UCLA 11 – I am unable to reach out and communicate with those around me .352*
UCLA 5 – I nd myself waiting for people to call or write .348*
UCLA 9 – I feel left out .341*
UCLA 10 – I feel completely alone .341*
UCLA 3 – I lack companionship .316*
UCLA 13 – I feel starved for company .315*
UCLA 12 – My social relationships are supercial .306*
UCLA 4 – I feel as if nobody really understands me .302*
UCLA 17 – It is dicult for me to make friends .25*
UCLA 20 – I feel uncomfortable doing activities alone .119
UCLA 1 – I am unhappy doing so many things alone .75
UCLA 2 – I cannot tolerate being so alone .27
Note. *The significative correlation is considering .01.
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Relationship between internet addiction and feelings of loneliness in university students
from a private institution southern Brazil
The present study analyzed the possible associations between loneliness and internet addic-
tion, verifying the former in detail. Not surprisingly, the mean age assessed in this study was less
than 30 years old, which supports what other researches among university students has found
(Carbonell et al., 2018; Purim & Tizzot, 2019). It is also important to point out that 100% of the sam-
ple used WhatsApp, an online social media that allows fast and easy conversations with other
people through the internet. This might be in line with other studies that suggest that university
students use the internet for communication and information exchanges (Purim & Tizzot, 2019;
Sancovschi & Kastrup, 2015). Furthermore, this studys results regarding internet addiction may
support the claim that such dependence is growing among university students (Carbonell et al.,
2018), since more than half of the sample appeared to have some level of internet addiction and
every participant made use of at least one online social media.
This study’s results regarding university students internet addiction levels are similar to
those found in other countries (Carbonell et al., 2018; Çikrikçi, 2019). Regarding loneliness, a sub-
stantial part of the present sample seemed to feel loneliness at some level, and such results are
similar in other countries too (Peltzer & Pengpid, 2017).
In this study, a statistical association between internet addiction and general loneliness was
expected, given that other researchers have already indicated it (Peltzer & Pengpid, 2017; Skues
et al., 2016). The present results suggest that, in general, higher internet addiction is related to
higher loneliness’ feelings. This is supported by the literature (Costa et al., 2018; Pittman & Reich,
2016; Skues et al., 2016) and it can be argued that such association may lead to a vicious cycle
among both constructs, with one continuously increasing the other.
Not all UCLA-BR items were associated with the addiction in question. “I am unhappy doing
so many things alone”, “I cannot tolerate being so alone” and “I feel uncomfortable doing activ-
ities alone” were the only ones that had no significant correlation with internet addiction. Each
of the other items had a positive statistical association with such dependence, contradicting the
literature that indicated that internet use, even if problematic, could decrease loneliness (Faci-
oli & Do Prado, 2018; Pessoni, 2018). Since lonely feelings depend on the interpretation that one
has of their environment, using the internet to keep in touch with other people should decrease
the sense of loneliness (Pittman & Reich, 2016). Therefore, since all of the participants used
WhatsApp, a social media made for online communication; it theoretically would diminish the
samples lonely feelings. This was, however, not the case in the present study. It might be sug-
gested, consequently, that a problematic internet use could be a risk factor regarding loneliness,
and its association with such feeling will mostly be a vicious cycle in which internet addiction
will increase loneliness and vice-versa, regardless of what facet of lonely feelings is considered.
However, it is important to understand why the UCLA-BR items 1, 2, and 20 were not associated
with internet addiction.
The only UCLA-BR items that did not correlate significantly with internet addiction were
the ones regarding discomfort in doing something, or just being, physically alone. Loneliness
is not defined by physical distance, but rather by perceived emotional and/or social isola-
tion (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). Thus, such results suggest that only emotional loneliness,
and not actually being alone, is associated with the addiction in question. As a matter of fact,
choosing to be physically alone related to another construct, called solitude (Cramer & Lake,
Bianca Ledur, Marina Schmitt, Luana Thereza Nesi de Mello, Ilana Andretta
PSIQUE • e-ISSN 2183-4806 • Volume XVIII • Issue Fascículo 1 • 1st january janeiro-30th june junho 2022 pp. 49-59
1998). According to previous authors solitude (e.g., intentionally spending time by ones self)
may increase self-esteem and decrease loneliness, and such associations were also found in
more recent research (Thomas & Azmitia, 2019). Choosing to be alone can be related to ones
improved well-being and emotional adjustment, whereas not wanting to be by ones self, as in
feeling lonely, can mean poorer social relationships, especially among adults (Burger, 1995;
Thomas & Azmitia, 2019). The fact that UCLA-BR items 1, 2, and 20 were not associated with
internet addiction may indicate that, although loneliness has a strong relation to such depen-
dence, solitude does not.
Nevertheless, even by assessing lonely feelings in detail, every association found between
these and internet addiction was positive. This may indicate that what might influence the rela-
tionship between loneliness and internet use is not the former, but, rather, the latter. This is sug-
gested by other theoretical models regarding the subject. For example, it is indicated that, in late
adolescents and young adults, different types of internet use result in different relationships
with loneliness – whereas using social media to make new friends might reduce lonely feel-
ings over time, using such medias to compensate for poor social skills would increase loneliness;
this refers that, while there may be healthy ways to utilize the internet to deal with such feel-
ings, there is also unhealthy and/or addictive manners to do so (Nowland et al., 2018). There-
fore, the vicious cycle would begin – the person would feel lonely, and, by using social media by
unhealthy means to try and decrease such unpleasant feelings, the loneliness would increase
overtime and, by not having other ways of dealing with the situation, the person would resort
to the internet again. In fact, research has shown that poor emotional regulation might lead to
internet addiction because of such vicious cycles that occur among university students (Faghani
et al., 2020). Perhaps healthy or controlled internet usage may reduce lonely feelings, but internet
addiction might increase them. This subject has to be researched further in the future, as it could
be hypothesized that normal internet use decreases loneliness, which would help develop an
internet addiction, therefore long-term increasing loneliness, as was already suggested by other
researchers (Peltzer & Pengpid, 2017).
It is also relevant to note that this study’s data was collected prior to the Covid-19 situation,
and, considering the current pandemic, university students are being physically isolated from
their peers in Brazil (Gundim et al., 2020). Therefore, the present results, which suggest that soli-
tude might not be directly associated with internet addiction, are important to take into consid-
eration when investigating undergraduates’ mental health in the Covid-19 pandemic context, as
it indicates that being alone is probably not what would lead someone to develop the addiction
in question. However, it is also known that social isolation is harming university students’ men-
tal health (Gundim et al., 2020), indicating that loneliness levels might be increasing among this
population. This, along with the rise in internet use due to the online way of having classes and
communicating in academic life (Lima et al., 2020), could point to an increase in internet addic-
tion in Brazilian undergraduates. Future researches should elaborate on this aspect of university
students’ mental health in the context of the current pandemic.
PSIQUE • e-ISSN 2183-4806 • Volume XVIII • Issue Fascículo 1 • 1st january janeiro-30th june junho 2022 pp. 49-59
Relationship between internet addiction and feelings of loneliness in university students
from a private institution southern Brazil
The present study suggests that internet addiction and loneliness are positively associated,
and, as long as internet use is problematic, it may represent a risk factor for developing or aggra-
vating lonely feelings. However, it is important to differentiate perceived emotional and/or social
isolation from being alone by choice. While the former refers to loneliness and appears to be
closely related to internet addiction, the latter describes the construct of solitude, which may not
be associated with such addiction.
This study’s Brazilian sample of university students appears to have similar internet addic-
tion prevalence as for other countries, suggesting that this might be a worldwide issue. How-
ever, such a subject still needs more research to properly understand the associations between
loneliness and internet normal use. The present research indicated that loneliness is related to
internet addiction, but other researchers suggest that the association between feeling lonely and
non-problematic internet usage may vary, which makes it essential to study the subject.
Although the presented results indicated important evidence to the continuous understand-
ing of the subject, this study did not embrace all possible variables on this topic. It would be essen-
tial to have newer researches extending on the psychological consequences of internet addic-
tion, to better comprehend this phenomenon. Furthermore, future studies should rely on a more
homogeneous sample; it would be best, for example, to have a similar number of men, women
and/or non-binary participants, with similar ages and other sociodemographic characteristics.
That way, results concerning loneliness and internet addiction could be compared between dif-
ferent groups regarding gender, to continuously further the understanding about such variables.
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