The Effects of Befriending on Cognitive Function

   Faculty of Management, Law and Social Sciences

  ,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Poor social relationships can contribute to cognitive decline [1], and vice versa; cognitive decline may strain social relationships [2] and curtail social engagement [3] and leading to loneliness and social isolation. Older people are vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation for various other reasons including failing physical health and bereavement [4]. Loneliness and social isolation can also lead to various physical and mental health problems including increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety [5]. In the UK, charities and voluntary organisations offer befriending services to provide support and reduce loneliness and social isolation (e.g., Age UK). Befriending services typically involve a volunteer befriender providing companionship to an older individual in-person or over the phone.

The influence of social support on health is widely acknowledged; however, there is a significant gap in the understanding of its role on cognition [6]. Costa-Cordella et al. systematically reviewed the literature testing the relationship between social support and cognition. Despite limitations, they concluded there is overall preliminary evidence of a relevant positive association between social support and cognition. Past research limitations included: (1) Social support was measured via questionnaires or surveys; and (2) most studies measured cognition with measures like the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) or global measures based on a few tasks resulting in crude measures of intelligence.

The overarching aim of this project is to develop a tailored befriending intervention that promotes cognitive function of older people in West Yorkshire.

Specific objectives:

  1. To explore how befriending is perceived by older people and its potential effect on cognitive function;
  2. To explore the perception of stakeholders on developing a tailored intervention;
  3. To develop a befriending intervention that promotes cognitive function of older people;
  4. To test the proposed befriending intervention and measures of assessment.

Key outputs:

  1. A literature review on the effect of befriending on cognitive function;
  2. A paper presenting outcomes of a interviews and/or focus groups regarding the feasibility and acceptability of a befriending intervention to improve cognitive function;
  3. A paper presenting the research protocol outlining a potential befriending intervention will be co-designed and co-produced with input from stakeholders including older people;
  4. A paper presenting outcomes of a survey with older people regarding their perceptions about the research protocol;
  5. A paper presenting the outcomes of a pilot study assessing the effects of befriending intervention on cognitive function

How to apply

Informal enquiries can be made to Dr Ria Vaportzis. Formal applications can be made through the University of Bradford web site; applicants should register an account and select 'Full-time PhD in Psychology' as the course, and then provide the project title when prompted.

Psychology (31)

Funding Notes

This is a self-funded PhD project; applicants will be expected to pay their own fees or have a suitable source of third-party funding. UK applicants may be able to apply for a Doctoral Loan from Student Finance. Part-time study may be possible.


1. Kuiper, J.S., et al., Social relationships and cognitive decline: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal cohort studies. International Journal of Epidemiology, 2016. 45(4): p. 1169-1206.
2. Kotwal, A.A., et al., Social function and cognitive status: Results from a US nationally representative survey of older adults. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2016. 31(8): p. 854-862.
3. Shouse, J.N., S.V. Rowe, and B.T. Mast, Depression and cognitive functioning as predictors of social network size. Clinical gerontologist, 2013. 36(2): p. 147-161.
4. Khalaila, R. and A. Vitman-Schorr, Internet use, social networks, loneliness, and quality of life among adults aged 50 and older: mediating and moderating effects. Quality of life research, 2018. 27(2): p. 479-489.
5. Hwang, T.-J., et al., Loneliness and social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. International psychogeriatrics, 2020. 32(10): p. 1217-1220.
6. Costa-Cordella, S., et al., Social support and cognition: A systematic review. Frontiers in psychology, 2021. 12: p. 452.

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