Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

Living Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford

UCLA Loneliness Scale

  • Heidi M. PontinenEmail author
  • Jeffrey A. Swails
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_95-1


The UCLA Loneliness Scale (Version 3) is a 20-item item self-report inventory that uses a four-point Likert-type scale format to assess subjective feelings of loneliness (Russell 1996).


The UCLA Loneliness Scale Version 3 is the third installment and was developed for two primary reasons that remained constant since the first edition of the UCLA Loneliness Scale (Russell 1996; Russell et al. 1978, 1980). First, the UCLA Loneliness Scales (original, revised, and version 3) intended to address concerns about preexisting measures of loneliness showing internal reliability, lack of generalizability, and excessive length (Russell et al. 1978). The final product was the UCLA Loneliness Scale Version 3, which is superior in its internal consistency, concurrent validity, and construct validity (Russell 1996; Britton and Conner 2007; Vassar and Crosby 2008; DiTammaso et al. 2004).

Secondly, all versions of the UCLA Loneliness Scale were designed to explore the detrimental impact of loneliness on physical and psychological health. Having clear and reliable measures of psychological constructs allows researchers to learn more about how they relate to other aspects of a person’s life. For example, earlier versions of the UCLA Loneliness Scale identified a link between loneliness and the following behaviors: alcoholism, suicide, and physical illness (Russell et al. 1980).

It should be noted that Russell (1996) defines loneliness as the layperson’s subjective experience of it. There is some variance in the field regarding the definition of loneliness. A more recent and commonly cited definition comes from Vassar and Crosby (2008): “an unpleasant experience in which an individual perceives his or her own social network as being insufficient” (p. 601). While the UCLA Loneliness Scale was published before this definition, the items of the most recent version of the UCLA Loneliness Scale focus primarily on an individual’s perspective on the adequacy of their social network.

Creating a Reliable and Valid Measure

The items for the original UCLA Loneliness Scale (Russell et al. 1978) were selected from Sisenwein’s (1964) loneliness measure. Participants were asked to read 20 statements (e.g., “I feel left out” or “I feel isolated from others”) and rate how frequently the statements described them on a four-point Likert-type scale (“I often feel this way” to “I never feel this way”). Items related to feelings of loneliness as well as perceptions of social relationships.

The Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale (Russell et al. 1980) was created as a response to concerns that response bias could have an effect on ratings in the original scale, due to concerns with including only negatively worded items. Therefore, new, positively worded items were created based on the original items and the 20 items with the highest correlations (ten that were positively worded and ten that were negatively worded) were included in the new and revised scale. Examples of the new items include, “I feel in tune with the people around me” and “I do not feel alone.”

The most recent version of the scale, presented in 1996 by Russell, is the UCLA Loneliness Scale (Version 3). Version 3 is different from the previous versions in that an example of possible responses to a question is provided, the wording of some items was simplified, and the items are written as questions instead of statements. This revision was the researcher’s response to concerns from varied samples (college students and older persons) about the readability of the items (Russell 1996). The scale includes 20 items (e.g., “How often do you feel alone?” “How often do you feel that there are people who really understand you?”) in which participants are asked to rate how often each feeling applies to them on a four-point Likert-type scale (“never” to “always”). Higher scores on the scale indicate greater loneliness.


Version 3 was shown to have high internal consistency with Cronbach’s alpha ranging from 0.89 to 0.94 across different samples. In addition, the test-retest reliability after 1 year had a correlation of 0.73 (Russell 1996). In a sample of opiate-dependent patients, Britton and Conner found similar values for internal consistency (0.87) and test-retest reliability (0.76) (Britton and Conner 2007). Vassar and Crosby examined the reliability of the three versions of the scale using a meta-analytic reliability generalization analysis. Using 13 studies that had reported estimates of internal consistency for the scale, the mean coefficient alpha was found to be 0.92, with a range of 0.86–0.95. An independent samples t-test comparing the UCLA-R and Version 3 showed that the Version 3 had higher reliability estimates (Vassar and Crosby 2008).


The scales were found to be correlated with other loneliness measures as well as measures of other constructs that could be associated with loneliness. For example, Version 3 correlated significantly with the New York University Loneliness Scale (r = 0.65), the Differential Loneliness Scale (r = 0.72), and the Beck Depression Inventory (r = 0.52; Russell 1996). It also correlated significantly with all three subscales on the short version of the Social and Emotional Loneliness Scale for Adults (SELSA-S), Social (r = 0.73), Family (r = 0.50), and Romantic (r = 0.34) (DiTammaso et al. 2004).

Exploring the Detrimental Impacts of Loneliness

This scale has been used in research with a variety of populations, including older adults, college students, nurses, patients in substance abuse programs, and adolescents (Russell 1996; Britton and Conner 2007; Weinan et al. 2016). In their 2008 meta-analysis, Vassar and Crosby found that studies using samples of those who have been separated from their own social networks (such as college students and immigrants) had higher reliability estimates. It has also been translated into other languages such as Turkish (Yildiz and Duy 2014), Urdu (Gul 2015), and Farsi (Zarei et al. 2016) in order to assess the reliability and validity of the scale in other populations. Its predictive ability has also been examined in a variety of studies. For example, in one study, patients with above average loneliness scores on the Version 3 scale were found to visit the emergency room more often than those with below average loneliness scores (Geller et al. 1999). In a study exploring loneliness in older adults in independent living facilities, factors such as grieving a loss that occurred within the previous year, having fewer visits from friends, and having a more limited social network predicted loneliness. Loneliness was also found to explain 8% of the variance in scores on the Geriatric Depression Scale in this sample (Adams et al. 2004). Many recent studies have begun to study the relationship between social media and loneliness. For example, one study found that scores on Version 3 were negatively associated with the number of confidants (“people you could tell anything to”), number of Facebook friends, and time spent interacting with family and friends in person (Freberg et al. 2010).


The UCLA Loneliness Scale (Version 3) is a psychometrically valid self-report measure of loneliness that has been refined over a series of papers. Strengths of this measure include its internal reliability, construct validity, and brevity. It has been used in a variety of settings with diverse populations contributing to findings such as that loneliness is associated with depression, a higher number of emergency room visits, and smaller social media networks.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWichita State UniversityWichitaUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Brendan Clark
    • 1
  1. 1.Wichita State UniversityWichitaUSA