Loneliness is one of many issues within our society which isn't openly spoken of or acknowledged. However, the reality is everyone will go through the feeling of lonely at some point in their lives, if only for a very short period of time. For example, think of your first day at a new school or job, although you are surrounded by people, you have no connection with them and feel more isolated, perhaps nervous or even vulnerable than usual. However, as you start to bond with people those feelings disappear. The feeling is only there for a short period and probably only during working hours. You don't speak of your vulnerability or even acknowledge that it is there but could you imagine that feeling 24/7?

The lab decided to create an experiment which challenged loneliness not being spoken of. We wanted to see whether the public would react differently if someone was openly labelled as lonely, would it encourage people to react or respond to another persons need?

In order to carry out the experiment we sat our Lab Designer Tom on a park bench in a bustling park at lunch time in Wolverhampton wearing a sign saying 'I'm lonely'. He sat in the same position for 30 minutes, we then repeated the experiment but this time placed the sign around Tom's dog Taz.

Although people acknowledged Tom when sitting on his own, the more meaningful connection was made through his dog Taz. Taz created a common ground for two people to make a conversation and acted as a barrier to not making the connection as personal, thus putting people at ease.

It was clear from the experiment that as people acknowledged the sign, passers by that were of British descent felt uncomfortable with breaking that barrier. On the two occasions people truly engaged with Tom, the one family had limited English and we think of Turkish or Somalian decent and the other (a single, British, white male in his 40s) we found after filming classified himself as lonely too therefore taking the opportunity to fulfil a need of his own. This begs the question, does British culture create the barrier to tackling loneliness?

What we can be sure of with this experiment is labelling an individual as lonely can exacerbate the individual's feeling of lonely and brand them in a way that disregards all other traits or skills. Furthermore it doesn't, from what we found, break down the taboo but rather makes people more wary and unsure.

 

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