Lewis Honors College Capstone Collection

Year of Publication



Arts and Sciences



Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts in Sociology

First Capstone/Thesis Advisor

Dr. Lauren E. Cagle


The COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique environment to study loneliness in college students. Loneliness has a deeply rooted history in psychology and sociology where both attempt to explain it as either a lack of physical contact, a discrepancy in one’s actual quality or type of relationships and the quality or type of sought-after relationships, or as an emotional reaction to social factors. One way that psychologists have attempted to quantify loneliness is with the UCLA loneliness scale. Previous research has focused on the conceptualization and definition of loneliness, social stress theory regarding studying mental health, and the strength of interpersonal ties with a move to predominantly online communication. To build on this research, I conducted mixed-method research interviewing 16 students ages 19 to 24 and utilized the UCLA loneliness scale to inform my qualitative data. The interviews in this study address stress through major life events, chronic strains, and daily hassles known as social stress theory. They also discuss the strength of different relationships due to social distancing. My analysis demonstrates that many students define loneliness during the pandemic with different parts of existing academic theories. My findings suggest that, within social stress theory, the pandemic is a major life event that has resulted in other stressful events which in turn causes chronic strain as it persists—stress proliferation. My interviews also tend to highlight instability within online relationships potentially due to a lack of social cues or face-to-face context. Interventions based on these findings may include creating new online methods of community building for new and returning students, promoting safe outdoor activities, and establishing support groups aimed specifically at those who feel lonely or isolated.