For years, experts have believed that healthy interaction between humans were threatened by technology — we are social creatures after all. British researchers from the University of Queensland collaborated with Griffith University to conduct a study looking at how socializing has changed among high school and college students. They published these societal trends, with a focus on loneliness, in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Technology has changed the way teengers interact with one another over the years. Cell phones and social media have been a huge propeller of that change, and many question how they have affected teen growth and social interaction. A study conducted by sociologists in 2006 revealed on average adults only had two people they felt they could confide in, while one-quarter had no confidants at all. However, the pendulum may have finally swung back.

"The trend in loneliness may be caused by modernization," said the study’s lead researcher David Clark, in a press release. "People become less dependent on their families and need more specialized skills, which could lead to less interest in social support and more self-sufficiency. Over time, people are more individualistic, more extroverted, and have higher self-esteem."

First, researchers looked through past studies at the differences between male and female college students between 1978 and 2009. They found female students reported they were remarkably less lonely than male students. When researchers looked at the younger high school population between 1991 and 2012, they saw a decline in loneliness. Not only did they reported feeling less lonely, but they also said they weren’t feeling left out and didn’t desire more close friends. They had friends to turn to when they were in need of advice and emotional support.

Alienation is one of the most difficult things for an emotionally evolving teen to face. Cliques are woven into the social fabric in high school and being the excluded one can worsen those feelings. However, if a student isn’t bothered by exclusion they have a difficult time feeling lonely, which may be the necessary keystone to healthy teenage interaction. If the mindset of teens has changed into valuing independence more, having less friends may not matter as much. When teens reported having less friends, they typically said that they didn't want anymore than they already had. This shift in choosing quality over quantity is a reflection of a strongly developed value system based on self-esteem.

"If other cultures show the same pattern of reduced loneliness in the face of poorer social networks, this would support the idea that modernization is responsible," Clark said. When going through the trends, researchers confirmed race also played a factor into feelings of loneliness and social isolation. White high school students reported fewer feelings of loneliness than black and Hispanic students. Overall, a sense of independence and self-esteem may be the root of different types of social skills and how teens feel about themselves.

Source: Clark DMT, Loxton, NJ, Tobin, SJ. Declining Loneliness Over Time: Evidence From American Colleges and High Schools. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2014.