Remember how Tom Hanks treated a volleyball he named “Wilson” like a real person in the movie The Castaway? Nonhuman connections can be very powerful, says Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago. His research shows that creating humanlike connections with inanimate objects or pets actually offsets some of the emotional damage of loneliness. Other studies have found that, among people with low levels of human support, those with a high level of attachment to a pet have less loneliness and depression.
What helps: A dog, in particular, seems to ease the stress of loneliness. Dogs are eager to give and receive affection. And walking a dog helps lift depression and increases the odds of social contact with other humans. Pets are increasingly being used in nursing homes as “animal therapy.” Some studies show that use ofrobotic pets with seniors has a similar effect in building attachment and decreasing loneliness.