Having hundreds of friends on Facebook is no substitute for a handful of close friends in real life, a study has found.
Researchers discovered that people with only a few friends were at least as happy as those with far more if many of theirs were online.
The number of 'peripheral1 others' someone connected with online – former classmates and coworkers, for example – had no bearing on how satisfied they felt.
Social media, the researchers said, has encouraged younger people to have larger but more impersonal2 networks of 'friends'.
But instead of trying to amass3 friends, they added, a better cure for loneliness might be spending time with those you're closest to.
Scientists from the University of Leeds did their study using data from two online surveys conducted on 1,496 people by a non-profit research organisation4.
People taking part in the study revealed their ages, the make-up of their social networks, how often they had different types of social interactions, and their own feelings of wellbeing.
They included details of how often and how they interacted with family or neighbours, and whether they included people who provided services to them in their networks.
The number of close friends someone had appeared to be the only thing which influenced how satisfied they were with their social life.
'Loneliness has less to do with the number of friends you have, and more to do with how you feel about your friends,' said Dr Wändi Bruine de Bruin.
'It's often the younger adults who admit to having negative perceptions of their friends. Loneliness occurs in people of all ages.
'If you feel lonely, it may be more helpful to make a positive connection with a friend than to try and seek out new people to meet.'
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