What Does The UCLA Loneliness Scale Mean For My Life?

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated April 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Loneliness is a common human experience. Most of us will feel it somewhat now and again, but ongoing feelings of perceived loneliness can have significant negative effects on a person’s overall health and well-being. Because of the high prevalence and profound potential impact of loneliness, there has long been a need for researchers and clinicians to empirically support tools for measuring how lonely a person feels. One of these measures, the UCLA Loneliness Scale, has been used to quantify degrees of loneliness for nearly half a century. Below, we’ll give an overview of how it came to be, how it works, and what you can do if you’re experiencing loneliness.

Do you feel lonely often?

What is the UCLA Loneliness Scale?

The UCLA Loneliness Scale has become a standard tool that researchers use to evaluate loneliness levels in individuals across populations.

It was first released in 1978 by American psychologist Daniel Russel in response to a lack of valid and reliable tools to measure how lonely a person feels. The original version consisted of 20 statements designed to measure a person's subjective feelings of loneliness. Each statement represents a different dimension of this feeling, and those taking the assessment are to indicate how strongly they agree with each one. A few example statements include:

  • "I have nobody to talk to."
  • "My social relationships are superficial."
  • "I feel shut out and excluded by others."
  • "It is difficult for me to make friends."

The person taking the assessment is to respond to each item by selecting one of four choices that indicate how frequently they relate to the given statement. The choices are O (“I often feel this way”), S (“I sometimes feel this way”), R (“I rarely feel this way”), and N (“I never feel this way.”). When they’re finished, scoring entails assigning a different numerical value to each of the four responses, resulting in a total ranging from zero to 60. The higher a person scores, the lonelier they’re likely to be. 

Revisions of the Loneliness Scale

Not long after the scale’s release, researchers noticed that it strongly correlated with assessments that measured concepts other than loneliness—most notably, depression and low self-esteem. While these often co-occur with loneliness, they’re not what the test is designed to measure, so Russel and his team made revisions. Two years after the release of the original, they released an updated version—the R-UCLA, which included rephrased versions of ten of the questions.

In 1996, they released the third and final (to date) version of the test. This revision was undertaken because Russel had previously been testing versions only on college students—a common practice among university researchers, since they’re the easiest population to get. However, he began to realize that this meant that the test wasn’t necessarily available to or representative of other populations. For example, elderly participants sometimes had trouble understanding the wording of the questions, resulting in decreased reliability of the test. That’s why he and his team released version three, which contained further simplified wording.


Why is measuring loneliness important? 

Chronic perceived loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of a variety of health concerns, including heart disease, stroke, dementia, depression, early mortality, and many others. Having a scientific, reliable way to measure loneliness allows researchers to gauge levels of this feeling among populations in order to take action to address it. 

In particular, a tool that can measure loneliness independent of other feelings or conditions lets researchers, healthcare providers, and policymakers understand the true incidence of loneliness. One that takes the form of an official questionnaire is important too, since people may be hesitant to express their true feelings if asked outright, “Are you lonely?” Plus, the tool offers a way to quantify these feelings in a way that a yes/no question does not.

Can individuals use the UCLA Loneliness Scale?

While it’s more often used for research purposes, you can take the UCLA loneliness scale for free online if you’d like to. It will reveal whether your loneliness levels are low, average, or high based on your responses. If your scores reflect moderate to high levels of loneliness or if you feel lonely and distressed by that, there are actions you can take to try and address the situation.

Strategies for decreasing loneliness

Of course, the antidote for feelings of loneliness is typically finding nourishing social connections. However, these connections can take time to cultivate, and they can be difficult for many people to form at all. Some live in rural areas with little to no one else they might bond with. Some have an illness or a disability that makes it difficult to leave the house and meet new people in person. Still, others simply find the prospect of socializing with strangers to be intimidating or difficult—particularly those who are experiencing loneliness already, since research suggests it may result in increased mistrust of others that can make forging new connections even harder. Regardless of your situation, here are some strategies for decreasing loneliness that you might consider.

Limit social media use

Social media can bring people together in some ways, but that’s not its only potential. More than one recent study has suggested a link between high social media use and loneliness. Comparing the day-to-day realities of your life with the polished, pristine lives of others often portrayed on social media can make you feel that your social life is inadequate. Plus, time spent on screens may result in less time spent leaving the house and socializing.

Take steps to increase your self-esteem

Some research indicates a correlation between having a negative self-image and feeling lonely, so taking measures to increase your self-esteem could be helpful if you’re experiencing loneliness. You could practice mindfulness to become aware of self-deprecating, distorted thoughts, boost your mood by exercising and eating well and practicing forgiving yourself, celebrating your achievements, and resting when needed.

Do you feel lonely often?

Spend time in public spaces

Setting out to find a new friend can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t have much social experience or haven’t socialized in a while. To get started, you might try simply spending time in public spaces (libraries, parks, coffee shops) to get used to being around others and to engage in casual conversations. This can increase your confidence and expose you to new people gradually and in a more low-stakes way. 


Getting involved with a cause you're passionate about can be a great way to organically meet new people, but signing up with that pressure can be overwhelming to some. Instead, you might join a volunteer team simply for the purpose of helping. Over time, you may meet like-minded people you can get close to—but even if not, research suggests that being helpful to others may increase happiness all on its own, which may help combat feelings of loneliness.

Connect with a therapist

Pursuing therapy can be another helpful strategy for those experiencing loneliness. First, a trained therapist can offer a nonjudgmental listening ear, which can be invaluable to those who lack someone to talk to. Second, they can help you address any thought patterns or fears that may be holding you back from forming strong social connections. For example, they might help you sharpen your social skills, build your self-esteem or confidence, or address symptoms of social anxiety or another condition you may be experiencing. 

For some people experiencing loneliness, the thought of traveling to attend an in-person therapy appointment may seem daunting or intimidating. For others, locating an in-person provider near them is difficult, or leaving the house regularly for appointments is not feasible. In cases like these, online therapy can represent a viable alternative. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of your home. Research suggests that online therapy can be as effective as in-office sessions in many cases, so you can generally pick whichever method appeals more to you.


The UCLA Loneliness Scale is a twenty-item assessment currently in its third version. It’s one of the most widely used measures of loneliness and has decades of research supporting its utility. It’s used to assess the incidence of loneliness among populations to enable healthcare providers, policymakers, and others to devise appropriate interventions. If you’re feeling lonely, you might try volunteering, taking steps to increase your self-esteem, and/or meeting with a therapist.
You're not alone with your loneliness
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