Loneliness is a distressing emotional state that motivates individuals to renew and maintain social contact. It has been suggested that lonely individuals suffer from a cognitive bias towards social threatening stimuli. However, current models of loneliness remain vague on how this cognitive bias is expressed in lonely individuals. The current review provides an up-to-date overview of studies examining loneliness in relation to various aspects of cognitive functioning. These studies are interpreted in light of the Social Information Processing (SIP) model. A wide range of studies indicate that lonely individuals have a negative cognitive bias in all stages of SIP. More specifically, lonely individuals have an increased attention for social threatening stimuli, hold negative and hostile intent attributions, expect rejection, evaluate themselves and others negatively, endorse less promotion- and more prevention-oriented goals, and have a low self-efficacy. This negative cognitive bias seems specific to the social context. Avenues for future research and implications for clinical practice are discussed.
Loneliness is assumed to be associated with a cognitive bias towards threats. A wide range of studies on lonely individuals confirms this cognitive bias. This bias occurs in all information processing stages. The cognitive bias is specific to the social context. More research into long-term effects, using multi-informant reports, is needed.