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Solitude in children and adolescents: A review of the research literature

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Abstract

Although there is a substantial body of research on loneliness in children and adolescents, there is relatively less research evidence on solitude, as a state of being alone, and more specifically, on facets of solitude such as attitude toward aloneness, ability to be alone, and positive aloneness. In this paper, after some conceptual clarifications, research is reviewed on understanding the nature of solitude; affect of time alone; attitude toward aloneness; the links between solitude and adjustment; and the associations between solitude and other aloneness concepts. Finally, suggestions for future research on solitude in childhood and adolescence are offered.
PSYCHOLOGY AND EDUCATION – AN INTERDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL 79
Solitude in Children and Adolescents:
A Review of the Research Literature
Evangelia P. Galanaki
University of Athens, Greece
Psychology and Education: An Interdisciplinary Journal. Special Issue:
Loneliness and Solitude in Children and Adolescents, 2013, 50(3-4), 79-88.
Although there is a substantial body of research on loneliness in children and
adolescents, there is relatively less research evidence on solitude, as a state of being
alone, and more specifically, on facets of solitude such as attitude toward aloneness,
ability to be alone, and positive aloneness. In this paper, after some conceptual
clarifications, research is reviewed on understanding the nature of solitude;
affect of time alone; attitude toward aloneness; the links between solitude and
adjustment; and the associations between solitude and other aloneness
concepts. Finally, suggestions for future research on solitude in childhood and
adolescence are offered.
At this time, there is a substantial body of research on the subjective,
painful experience of loneliness in children and adolescents. Its frequency,
intensity and duration, as well as its antecedents and consequences, have been
systematically investigated (for reviews and recent research see Asher &
Paquette, 2003; Goossens, 2006; Margalit, 2010; Rokach, 2012; Rotenberg &
Hymel, 1999). However, relatively little research evidence exists on solitude,
that is, the state of being alone, and more specifically, on children’s and
adolescents’ understanding of solitude, attitude toward aloneness, ability to be
alone, and positive aloneness. Also, there are only a few studies attempting to
disentangle the complex links between the various aloneness experiences in
children and adolescents, by examining, for example, the association between
being alone and feeling lonely. These empirical investigations will be reviewed
here, with the aim of providing a clearer picture of the advancements and the
gaps in the research literature. More specifically, after some conceptual
clarifications, research will be reviewed on understanding and the nature of
solitude; affect of time alone; attitude toward aloneness; the links between
solitude and adjustment; and the associations between solitude and other
aloneness concepts. Finally, suggestions for future research on solitude in
childhood and adolescence will be offered.
Concepts of Aloneness
The terms aloneness, loneliness, and solitude appear to have been used
interchangeably in the literature, and this has resulted in conceptual confusion.
The three terms are not identical. Aloneness is the objective (physical), neutral
state of being alone. Loneliness is a subjective, painful experience, stemming
80 Solitude in Children and Adolescents
from a perceived lack of intimacy and/or belonging (Peplau & Perlman, 1982;
Weiss, 1973). Aloneness may or may not result in loneliness, and loneliness
may be experienced even in the presence of others. The desire or longing for
contact is a critical aspect of loneliness. Solitude is a state of aloneness which
may be either negative or positive. When negative, it can be equated with
loneliness; when positive, it is a constructive and beneficial experience. In this
sense, it is usually voluntary and occurs in the absence of others, though not
always (e.g., a student may feel solitary while studying in a public library).
Solitude is a vital social phenomenon, in the sense that it has a strong impact on
the social life of individuals and societies (Long & Averill, 2003). The desire for
aloneness and the “awareness of volition” (Wolfe & Laufer, 1974) are critical
aspects of solitude.
Although related, the term attitude toward aloneness is different from
solitude. The former is the individual’s positive or negative evaluation of
aloneness, while the latter is the constructive use of time alone (Marcoen &
Goossens, 1993). Also, the term ability to be alone has been operationally
defined and measured in ways similar to the attitude toward aloneness.
Several facets of solitude have been described, and the value of solitude in
our lives has been analyzed from various viewpoints. Winnicott (1958/1965)
introduced the “capacity to be alone” as a major developmental achievement and
regarded solitude in childhood as “a most precious possession” (p. 30). “Active
solitude” was described as a constructive use of time alone and as a preparation
for intimacy; “solitude skills” (as analogous to social skills) enable the
individual not to feel lonely when alone (Rubenstein & Shaver, 1982a). Various
forms of self reflection, personality development, and creative activity take
place during solitude (Storr, 1988). In cases of mental disorder, solitude may
become a “healing experience” (Suedfeld, 1982). This type of aloneness may be
an “ecological niche” (Larson, Csikszentimihalyi, & Graef, 1982), including
both benefits and dangers. Larson (1997) has also conceptualized solitude as
emotional renewal and a “strategic retreat” from social life. Others (Buchholz,
1997) have gone so far as regarding solitude as a developmental need equally
important to attachment throughout the life span.
Positive aloneness experiences during childhood and adolescence have been
rather neglected by researchers. Marcoen and Goossens (1993) have
acknowledged the lack of a measure of solitude for these age periods. Possible
explanations for this neglect may be the extremely painful character of
loneliness, which may have led researchers to avoid dealing with it; the common
belief in many cultures that being alone may be a pathological or dangerous
state; the long-standing view that children do not feel lonely, let alone use
aloneness constructively; and the ambivalent nature of aloneness, in the sense
that one can feel lonely when with others and not feel lonely when alone. This
ambivalence is reflected in the linguistic confusion among the various aloneness
concepts in several languages.
PSYCHOLOGY AND EDUCATION – AN INTERDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL 81
Understanding of Solitude
Children’s ability to understand solitude is a rather neglected area. With the
exception of one study (Demos, 1974), all other investigations showed that
during middle and late childhood, the ability to differentiate between the neutral
state of being alone and loneliness is active (Galanaki, 2004; Hymel, Tarulli,
Hayden Thomson, & Terrell-Deutsch, 1999; Kristensen, 1995; Wolfe, 1978;
Wolfe & Laufer, 1974). Children’s ability to understand the desire to be alone
and the fact that aloneness may have positive functions too, which is the essence
of solitude, is another neglected research topic. During early childhood, in
various cultures, this understanding appears to be limited, although it is not
absent (Galanaki, 2004; Wolfe, 1978; Wolfe & Laufer, 1974).
The majority of 7 year olds are able to define privacy, to which the
meanings of controlling access to information and being alone are most
frequently attributed; the understanding of “being alone when you want to”
appears at age 9, and of “being alone and unbothered” at age 11 (Wolfe &
Laufer, 1974). In this study, the ages between 7 and 13 seemed to be crucial for
the understanding of the meaning and the significance of aloneness.
Nature of Solitude
Children have been found to be able to articulate a variety of solitude uses,
which were the following: peace, quietude and relaxation; decrease of anxiety,
tension, and anger; reflection, problem-solving, planning ahead; daydreaming;
self-control and mastery; privacy/secrecy, freedom from criticism; activities;
and concentration (Galanaki, 2004).
Among adolescents, free-floating thought (e.g., fantasizing, daydreaming,
talking to self, thinking about past or future) was the most frequent type of
solitary activity, followed by various forms of passive entertainment other than
watching TV (e.g., listening to music, reading), sleeping, and personal grooming
(Larson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1978). Similar data emerged in another
investigation (Larson et al., 1982): housework, self-care, studying, watching TV,
personal reading. And a more detailed description of the content of solitude is
offered by Larson and Richards (1991), including school-age children also (9-15
year olds): media use, personal maintenance, schoolwork, playing games,
creative activities, eating, chores and errands, sports, transportation, and
socializing. When reviewing these findings, Larson (1990) categorized them
into productive activities (work at a job, schoolwork), maintenance tasks
(cooking, cleaning, personal care), and leisure activities (watching TV, reading,
listening to music, daydreaming).
Self-reflection is an important activity of adolescents’ time spent alone.
When explaining the positive change that had occurred in their lives during the
previous two years, adolescents referred to time alone as an opportunity to do
things, be constructive, reflect, and think (Freeman, Csikszentmihalyi, &
Larson, 1986); this has been found to be true especially for talented adolescents
82 Solitude in Children and Adolescents
(Csikszentimihalyi, Rathunde, & Whalen, 1993). Creative reflection emerged as
a crucial use of solitude among Italian adolescents too (Ammaniti, Ercolani, &
Tambelli, 1989). The positive attitude toward aloneness was found to be
associated with greater introspectiveness among Belgian adolescents (Goossens
& Marcoen, 1999a), and highly introspective adolescents spend more time alone
and engage in artistic and cultural activities (Hansel, Mechanic, & Brondolo,
1986). The existence and quality of self-reflection in time alone during
childhood has not been investigated yet. Also, research has not focused on the
benefits of solitude which have been found in adults (e.g. Long & Averill, 2003)
among children and adolescents, by means of, for example, a self-report
instrument assessing a variety of uses of voluntary aloneness.
Affect of Time Alone
During preadolescence, spending much time alone is correlated with less
positive average affect, although the correlations are modest (Larson &
Richards, 1991), and this affect does not improve from preadolescence through
early adolescence (Larson, 1997). The individual’s affective state when being
alone was found to include both positive and negative aspects during
adolescence. While they feel more lonely and hostile, less happy and alert, and
weaker and more passive when alone (Larson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1978),
adolescents also report improved cognitive state, that is, better concentration,
greater ease in concentration, and lower self-consciousness (Larson &
Csikszentmihalyi, 1980). Aloneness is experienced as the loneliest part of daily
life (Larson, 1999), and loneliness is highest when the adolescent is alone during
Friday or Saturday nights (Larson et al., 1982). These findings support the
ambivalence or the paradox of solitude (Larson, 1999): solitude may actively
being searched for due to its self-enhancing functions, but at the same time it
may be experienced as a painful state.
Some other investigations have shown no association between the positive
and the negative attitude toward aloneness (Goossens & Marcoen, 1999b;
Marcoen, Goossens, & Caes, 1987; Marcoen & Goossens, 1993) or a very weak
association (Goossens & Beyers, 2002) in late childhood and adolescence. These
findings seem to further support the paradoxical nature of solitude.
Attitude toward Aloneness
With the use of various methods (i.e., the experience sampling method,
sentence completion tests, and questionnaires), the attitude toward aloneness has
been found to be predominantly negative during preadolescence, when a gradual
shift to a more positive attitude is observed until the end of adolescence. This
age trend has been found in various countries: England, Italy, Belgium, New
Zealand, and the U.S.A. (Coleman, 1974; Corsano, Majorano, & Champretavy,
2006; Goossens & Marcoen, 1999a; Kroger, 1985; Larson, 1997; Larson &
Richards, 1991; Marcoen et al., 1987; Marcoen & Goossens, 1993). More
specifically, the crucial period for the decline of aversion to aloneness was in
early adolescence (i.e., from fifth to seventh grade), and for affinity for
PSYCHOLOGY AND EDUCATION – AN INTERDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL 83
aloneness the increase occurred between ages 15 and 18 (Marcoen & Goossens,
1993). Advances in reasoning skills, changes in social relationships and the
process of identity formation (see below, Solitude and Adjustment) have been
regarded as the factors contributing to this attitude shift (Goossens, 2006).
However, the results for the age trends are not always so clear. For
example, while the decreasing trend was found for the negative attitude toward
aloneness, the increasing trend for the positive attitude did not emerge from
preadolescence to late adolescence (Marcoen et al., 1987). Possible reasons for
these mixed findings may be, again, the ambivalent nature of solitude, the fact
that positive and negative facets of solitude have not been differentiated in all
these investigations, as well as the fact that different methods have been used to
assess attitude toward aloneness. Longitudinal research designs, covering a
broad range of age groups, are also needed in order to clarify this age trend.
Solitude and Adjustment
If solitude – at least some uses of it – is potentially beneficial, then it should
be positively associated with indices of adjustment and mental health. First of
all, solitude seems to have a positive after-effect for adolescents. After being
alone, adolescents were more alert, felt stronger, more involved and more
cheerful (Larson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1978; Larson et al., 1982). However, this
positive after-effect was not observed among preadolescents (Larson, 1997).
Social anxiety and depression were more likely among adolescents who
exhibited an affinity for aloneness (Goossens & Marcoen, 1999a). Potential
explanations, offered by the above researchers, for these associations are that the
subscale measuring the positive attitude toward aloneness contains many items
which tap a reactive rather than an active desire to be alone; or that some
adolescents use time alone constructively while some others do not; or that the
same adolescents make a beneficial use of time alone on some occasions, but
fail to do so on other occasions.
Evidence for the association of the attitude toward aloneness with the
process of identity formation as well as with the quality of attachment to parents
among adolescents emerged from some other investigations. One could expect
that affinity for aloneness, as a more mature attitude toward being alone, would
be characteristic of achievement identity status, which reflects a strong
commitment after a period of active exploration; and that securely attached
adolescents not only are not afraid of being alone but also seek solitude for its
benefits whereas dependently attached adolescents prefer being with others than
with themselves. However, research findings are not so clear. In one such study
(Marcoen & Goossens, 1993), adolescents with a diffused identity, that is, those
who had never gone through a period of exploration and had not arrived at a
strong commitment, had negative attitude toward aloneness, and adolescents
with an achieved status were more positive toward aloneness. Those with a
moratorium status, that is, those who were going through an exploration period
84 Solitude in Children and Adolescents
without having arrived at a strong commitment, also had positive views toward
being alone, perhaps because they retreat to aloneness to explore alternatives.
Also, those with high scores on a unidimensional identity scale (with which
identity achievement and intimacy with others were measured) had more
negative attitude toward aloneness. In the same study, contrary to expectations,
there were no differences between securely and insecurely attached adolescents
as to their attitude toward aloneness, but the dependently attached adolescents
were more averse toward being alone, as expected.
These mixed findings about attitude toward aloneness, and especially the
positive attitude, may be attributed to the content of the subscale measuring this
attitude, as discussed previously. When identity exploration and commitment
were measured separately (Goossens & Marcoen, 1999a), affinity for aloneness
did not distinguish among identity statuses, but was associated, as expected,
with more exploration of identity alternatives, thus supporting the positive role
of time alone during adolescence.
In another study (Goossens, Marcoen, Van Hees, & Van De Woestijne,
1998), rather expected findings emerged. Affinity for aloneness was
characteristic of insecurely attached adolescents, that is, those with avoidant and
anxious-ambivalent attachment types; and aversion to being alone was higher
among dependently attached adolescents.
All the above findings for identity and attachment underline the necessity of
future research in which the positive and negative uses of solitude will be more
clearly distinguished and measured. In this way, their associations with various
facets of adjustment and developmental processes during adolescence will be
clarified.
For young children, the ability to be alone was connected with positive
adjustment: more autonomy, and less dependency and hostility, according to
teachers’ reports (Youngblade, Berlin, & Belsky, 1999). For adolescents, an
intermediate amount of time alone (i.e., 25%-45% of their non-classroom time)
was related to less alienation (Larson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1978), better school
grades, better teacher- and parent-rated adjustment and lower self-reported
depression, controlling for loneliness when alone (Larson, 1997, 1999). This
effect was not found for preadolescents, but those preadolescents and
adolescents who stated that they wanted to be alone rather than with others and
who felt relatively happier when alone were less well adjusted (Larson, 1997).
Thus, it seems that, although solitude can have positive effects on adjustment, a
reactive desire for solitude may be indicative of or conducive to adjustment
problems.
Associations among the Aloneness Concepts
A positive attitude toward aloneness has been found to correlate positively
with loneliness, especially peer-related loneliness, during middle and late
childhood (Goossens & Beyers, 2002; Terrell-Deutsch, 1999), and adolescence
PSYCHOLOGY AND EDUCATION – AN INTERDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL 85
(Corsano et al., 2006, for girls only; Goossens, Lasgaard, Vanhalst, Mathias, &
Masy, 2009; Goossens & Marcoen, 1999b; Marcoen & Goossens, 1993;
Marcoen et al., 1987).
Positive links with loneliness have been found even for the negative attitude
toward aloneness during preadolescence (Goossens & Beyers, 2002) and
adolescence (Marcoen et al., 1987). Moreover, affinity for aloneness was more
pronounced among adolescents who had fewer friends, had recently quarreled
with a same-sex friend, had a father who was working outdoors, had problems at
school, and a negative outlook on the future (Marcoen et al., 1987). In the same
study, negative views on being alone were evident in adolescents who had
argued with same-sex friends, were members of a formal youth movement and
attributed their aloneness to other people. The positive attitude was also related
to unsatisfactory relations with parents in early adolescence, whereas during late
adolescence this association did not exist, but a negative attitude toward
aloneness was related to better relations with peers from early to late
adolescence (Corsano et al., 2006). In another investigation (Larson &
Csikszentmihalyi, 1980), adolescents who had the most positive moods and felt
most free alone, relative to other times, were more alienated from family and
peers. And for fifth and sixth graders spending more time alone was correlated
with heightened loneliness, although the correlation was quite modest (Larson,
1999).
Possible explanations for these rather unexpected positive associations
between loneliness and the positive attitude toward aloneness may be that
individuals find in aloneness an attractive retreat from unsatisfactory social
relationships; or use aloneness as a protection from demanding and threatening
relationships; or end up feeling lonely because they enjoy solitude, find refuge
in it and, thus, their withdrawal restricts the quantity and quality of their
relationships; or state in a questionnaire that they like to be alone as a defense
(i.e., rationalization) against their painful loneliness feelings (see also Goossens
et al., 2009; Terrell-Deutsch, 1999). This latter explanation is supported by
Larson’s (1997) notion of a “misanthropy effect,” that is, a reactive rather than
an active desire to be alone (see also Marcoen & Goossens, 1993).
Other research data indicates that attitude toward aloneness and loneliness
are separate factors during late childhood (Goossens & Beyers, 2002) and
adolescence (Goossens et al., 2009). Similarly, the correlations between
preference for privacy and privacy on the one hand and loneliness on the other,
although positive, were weak for adolescents (Marcoen & Goossens, 1993).
Finally, there is a body of research data indicating no relation between
ability to be alone/aversion to being alone and loneliness in early (Youngblade
et al., 1999) and middle childhood (Terrell-Deutsch, 1999; only for aversion).
Young children who were more averse to being alone were found to spend more
time in peer settings, thus protecting themselves from loneliness (Youngblade et
86 Solitude in Children and Adolescents
al., 1999). Also, surprisingly, no relation was found between friendship quality
and ability to be alone, a finding that may be explained by the fact that children
who are better able to be alone invest less in friendships. Also, no relation was
found for aversion to being alone, which may mean that the interaction with
friends is enough, regardless of its quality.
All the above conflicting data, together with the finding that the positive
and the negative attitude toward aloneness do not have a strong negative
association with each other (Goossens & Marcoen, 1999; Goossens & Beyers,
2002; Marcoen & Goossens, 1993; Marcoen et al., 1987), support the paradox of
solitude and may be partly attributed to it.
Conclusions and Future Directions
If solitude is a basic human need, equally important to attachment and
belonging (Buchholz, 1999; Winnicott, 1958/1965), it is necessary to explore its
multiple positive contributions to children’s development. Special attention
should be given to the multidimensionality of solitude. Future research should
focus on distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy uses of solitude. The
content of solitude, especially in childhood, constitutes a highly neglected topic.
We still have much to learn about issues such as how the benefits of solitude
fluctuate with age; which dimensions of solitude are most beneficial in each age
period; and whether, with age, individuals want to be alone for more intrinsic
reasons than before. Definitely more research is needed on the impact of culture
on children’s and adolescents’ solitude experiences, given the frequent
complaint of people about not having enough time on their own as well as the
dangers of some aloneness states. Developmental research will open the way to
a pedagogy of solitude (Galanaki, 2005), which may enable children to not only
tolerate, but enjoy aloneness as well.
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PSYCHOLOGY AND EDUCATION – AN INTERDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL 89
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Evangelia P.
Galanaki, Faculty of Primary Education, University of Athens, Navarinou 13A
10680, Athens, Greece. E-mail: egalanaki@primedu.uoa.gr
... The experience of being in solitude is also, like education, a necessary element in a flourishing human life (Averill & Sundararajan, 2014;Batchelor, 2020;Buchholz, 1997;Coplan & Bowker, 2014a;Galanaki, 2013Galanaki, , 2014Stern, 2014;Storr, 1988;Vincent, 2020). Similar, perhaps, to the potential positive and protective right for children to dignity (Ezer, 2004) or the right to privacy (Sim, 2002) as these involve conditions for flourishing. ...
... Byrnes, 2001;Galanaki, 2005;Lees, 2012Lees, , 2013bLees, , 2016aSenechal, 2012;Stern, 2011Stern, , 2014Stern, , 2017Stern & Walejko, 2019;Thomas, 2017) and to investigate childhood and educationally relevant forms of negative and positive experience of being alone (e.g. Galanaki, 2013Galanaki, , 2008Oakley, 2020;Rotenberg & Hymel, 1999), the machinery of schooling -or as Peim terms it the 'ontotheology' (Peim, 2012) -does not care about solitude for children during their school experience. Home education and other alternative settings -defined here as 'education spaces that deliberately differentiate themselves from "mainstream" schools' (Kraftl, 2016: 117)do care, as work across the spectrum of alternative education around the world shows (see Lees & Noddings, 2016). ...
Chapter
This chapter explores how loneliness, alienation and solitude set their stamp on ‘quiet professionalism’ in a climate of neoliberalism. This theme is considered in the context of a higher education system that is increasingly associated with efficiency, effectiveness and ‘time-management’ rather than passion or vocation. Departing from the example of Greta Garbo, who famously declared that she wanted to be let alone, the authors explore how the notion of correspondence – with its echoes of response, responsibility and responsiveness – sheds new light on the state of being ‘alone together’ as conducive to the freedom to think. They explore attacks on subjectivity through a novel reading of the psychoanalytical notion of impingement. This is considered against the background of a form of alone/togetherness that arises in and through a quest for ethical forms of collaboration.
... Although being alone is often portrayed as an undesirable state, not all aloneness is actually detrimental (Galanaki, 2013). Solitude offers time for reflection, development, self-exploration, creative activity, and an escape from social life that can recharge and renew the self (Storr, 1988;Csikszentmihalyi, 1996;Larson, 1997;Goossens, 2014;Korpela and Staats, 2014). ...
... The finding in relation to the positive experiences of being alone was also in line with previous research (e.g., Storr, 1988;Larson, 1997;Galanaki, 2013;Goossens, 2014). This study further adds that being alone for young adults is associated with being themselves without the fear of being judged or the pressure to be accepted by others. ...
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Young adults (16–24 years old) are currently the loneliest group in Western countries. In particular, young adults of lower socio-economic status (SES) living in the most deprived areas are loneliest in the United Kingdom. This mixed-methods study explored the experience of loneliness among this under-explored demographic in London. Using a novel free association technique, the experience of loneliness was found to be characterized by: a sense of isolation, negative emotions and thoughts, coping and a positive orientation to aloneness. An exploration of these themes revealed that: one can feel isolated or excluded even when surrounded by people; the experience of loneliness is accompanied by a set of interrelated feelings and thoughts like rumination; and technological and/or non-technological outlets can be used to cope. Social media play both a positive and negative role in loneliness, and loneliness is not always experienced negatively. The quantitative data indicated that this sample was lonely. By providing insight into young adults’ loneliness, the findings indicate what types of interventions are likely to diminish it.
... Like loneliness, attitude towards aloneness has also been identified as a significant factor that can influence development in adolescents. Aloneness is defined as the physical and neutral state of being on one's own and attitude towards aloneness is the positive or negative evaluation of the state of aloneness (Galanaki, 2013). Extreme affinity or aversion to aloneness has been shown to be associated with negative mental health issues (Wang et al., 2013). ...
... This counterintuitive association can be explained by the item structure of the positive attitude towards aloneness subscale of the Loneliness and Aloneness Scale for Children and Adolescents (LACA) used in the study by Goossens & Marcoen, (1999). According to these authors, the subscale -positive attitude towards aloneness captures reactive rather than active affinity to aloneness (Galanaki, 2013;Goossens & Marcoen, 1999). That is, adolescents demonstrating positive attitude towards aloneness, may spend time alone not because they like to do so but because they want to avoid the company of others. ...
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Loneliness and attitude towards aloneness have been shown to be associated to depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders in adolescents and they may also increase the vulnerability to Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI). Therefore, the present study investigated the association between lifetime prevalence and functions of NSSI, parent- and peer-related loneliness, and attitude towards aloneness (positive and negative). Data regarding NSSI, loneliness, and attitude towards aloneness were collected from a sample of 401 high school students from three different high schools located in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. Lifetime prevalence of NSSI was found to be 16.5%. Females reported a higher lifetime prevalence of NSSI than males. Higher mean scores for parent-, peer-related loneliness, and positive attitude (i.e., affinity) towards aloneness was observed in adolescents with lifetime NSSI as compared to adolescents without a history of NSSI. Finally, a positive correlation between self-related (i.e., automatic) functions of NSSI and parent- and peer-related loneliness and a positive attitude towards aloneness was also observed.
... It is important to make a clear distinction between solitude and loneliness. According to Galanaki (2013), solitude refers to the physical state of being alone, which can be experienced as either positive or negative. In contrast, loneliness is an unpleasant or negative experience stemming from a perceived lack of closeness with others, or from deficient social relationships (Peplau and Perlman 1982). ...
... In contrast, those who have an affinity toward loneliness may experience solitude as self-determined. Loneliness is therefore associated with NSDS but not with autonomous, freely chosen solitude (Galanaki 2013;Nicol 2005) Indeed, recent research found loneliness to have a statistically significant and substantial relationship with NSDS, but was unrelated to SDS (Dankaert et al. 2017;Thomas and Asmitia 2014). ...
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Solitude during adolescence is a potentially double edged sword. Involuntary (non-self-determined solitude) is associated with loneliness, which is known to predict many forms of psychological ill-being. In contrast, freely chosen (self-determined solitude) is associated with healthy developmental outcomes. It is possible that cultural attitudes towards solitude could influence the way adolescents think about and engage in solitude. The present study examined whether South African adolescents from individualist and collectivist cultures differ in their motivations for solitude, using the Motivation for Solitude Scale (MSS-SF). Respondents included 426 adolescents from collectivist and 266 from individualist cultures, between 14 and 18 years of age (mean age = 15.7). For valid cross-cultural comparisons, measurement equivalence was established using invariance and differential item functioning analysis. Results for the measurement invariance analysis (MI) marginally failed to support scalar invariance. Given criticism that MI is overly restrictive, Rasch analysis was used to test for uniform DIF, which supported invariance. Next, Bayesian analysis was used to investigate group differences. There was no difference between the cultural groups for non-self-determined solitude, but, adolescents from individualist cultures were less likely to engage in self-determined solitude. Results support the cross-cultural application of the MSS-SF, and point to a possible cultural bias against self-determined solitude in individualist cultures, despite its potential benefits.
... Solitude has been defined as volitional time spent by oneself that is generally used constructively; in other words, alone time that is sought after and utilized for the purpose of engaging in intrinsically motivated activities (Galanaki, 2013;Koch, 1994;Larson, 1990;Marcoen & Goossens, 1993). Solitude is marked by an absence of communication and interaction with other people, typicallybut not necessarily-involving physical separation from others. ...
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The construct of solitude skills suggests that successfully navigating the domain of solitude may require specific psychological resources, but this theoretical possibility has not yet been investigated empirically. Fourteen well-adjusted adults (Mage=49.5) participated in a qualitative study that examined their lived experiences with solitude and sought to identify the skills they utilized when engaging in positive solitude. Thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) of narrative data resulted in the identification of eight solitude skills organized within three central concepts: Connect with Self included the skills of enjoying solitary activities, emotion regulation, and introspection; the skills included in Protect Time were making time to be alone, using that time mindfully, and validating one’s need for solitude; and the skills of Find a Balance included heeding signals to enter solitude and knowing when to exit solitude. These findings illuminate how the documented benefits of solitude are enacted and illustrate how solitude sustains the private self, which clinicians have argued promotes well-being (Modell, 1992). Knowledge of these skills may be valuable for those who volitionally enter solitude as well as those who find themselves in unwanted isolation. These findings lay the groundwork for future studies to examine whether the solitude skills identified here apply to other populations, and to explore the efficacy of solitude skills trainings in promoting psychological well-being or as a clinical intervention.
... Preliminary studies found that solitude can yield psychological benefits, such as an increase in creativity, problem-solving skills, sense of freedom and autonomy, feeling of intimacy, self-discovery, self-renewal, and more focused attention . Practices of solitude are also found to be associated with fewer psychosocial adjustment problems and internalizing symptoms (Galanaki, 2013;Larson, 1997), and less self-consciousness (Larson et al., 1982). ...
Article
Although solitude is found to be undesirable to many, systematic practice of it can yield positive psychological outcomes. This mixed-method study explored the process and influence of solitude as a behavioral intervention among youths in a therapeutic community in Hong Kong. Qualitative interviews with 43 youths (67.4% male, mean age = 18.3) revealed that solitude facilitated growth in their sense of personal responsibility, increased perspective-taking, increased respect for rules, change in life attitudes, and growth in consideration of future consequences. A two- wave prospective study (n = 79, 82.3% male, mean age = 17.4) further demonstrated perceived meaningfulness in solitude predicted an increase in consideration of future consequences, but not in other types of behavioral intervention. This study preliminarily demonstrated solitude has beneficial outcomes among high-risk youths, and meaning-making can facilitate this relationship. Keywords
... The benefits of solitude for personal and spiritual growth, however, make two key assumptions: that solitude is both voluntary and used constructively. This is particularly clear in studies of aloneness in children: while self-determined solitude is consistently associated with positive developmental outcomes, non-self-determined solitude is associated with greater loneliness and its accompanying long-term problems (Galanaki, 2013;van Zyl et al., 2018;Corsano et al., 2020). Regarding the use of solitude, Lay et al. (2019) found that trait self-reflection, by definition involuntary, was more strongly associated with negative solitude experiences than positive, suggesting a greater opportunity for moments of despair when forced to be alone with one's thoughts. ...
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The physical distancing measures necessitated by COVID-19 have resulted in a severe withdrawal from the patterns of daily life, necessitating significantly reduced contact with other people. To many, such withdrawal can be a major cause of distress. But, to some, this sort of withdrawal is an integral part of growth, a pathway to a more enriching life. The present study uses a sequential explanatory QUAN-qual design to investigate whether people who felt that their lives had changed for the better after being forced to engage in physical distancing, what factors predicted such well-being, and how they spent their time to generate this sense of well-being. We invited 614 participants who reported closely following physical distancing recommendations to complete a survey exploring this topic. Our analyses, after controlling for all other variables in the regression model, found a greater positive association between presence of meaning in life, coping style, and self-transcendent wisdom and residualized current well-being accounting for retrospective assessments of well-being prior to physical distancing. An extreme-case content analysis of participants' personal projects found that participants with low self-transcendent wisdom reported more survival-oriented projects (e.g., acquiring groceries or engaging in distracting entertainments), while participants reporting high self-transcendent wisdom reported more projects involving deepening interactions with other people, especially family. Our findings suggest a more nuanced pathway from adversity to a deeper sense of well-being by showing the importance of not merely coping with adversity, but truly transcending it.
... In particular, Marcoen et al. (1987), studying loneliness and related phenomena during late childhood and adolescence, suggested a distinction between the aversion to aloneness, an attitude leading one to avoid being alone, and the affinity for aloneness, leading one to search for time alone. More recently, focusing on late childhood, Galanaki (2004Galanaki ( , 2013 developed the idea that solitude can be a constructive condition when voluntarily sought, suggesting the construct of voluntary aloneness. It refers to a particular utilization of aloneness, an ability to find positive facets of aloneness (Galanaki et al. 2015). ...
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Self-concept, defined as individuals’ ideas about their own competences, can be formed by significant external evaluations or internal attributions of one’s characteristics. Many studies have investigated the relationships between loneliness as a painful feeling arising from a lack of social support and self-concept in late childhood without distinguishing specific domains of competence; no studies have been carried out on the potential role of positive uses of voluntary aloneness in late childhood self-concepts. The main aim of the present study is to explore the relationships between self-concept domains, loneliness, attitudes toward aloneness, and uses of voluntary aloneness in late childhood. Measures of loneliness, attitudes toward aloneness, voluntary aloneness, and self-concept were collected in a sample of 267 (126 males) 8- to 10-year-old Italian children. Our results showed that global self-concept was significantly negatively associated with peer-and parent-related loneliness and positively associated with aversion to aloneness. Moreover, self-concept in the parental domain was strongly negatively associated with parent-related loneliness and voluntary aloneness for autonomy and positively associated with voluntary aloneness for concentration. Self-perception in the peer domain was negatively associated with peer- and parent-related loneliness and positively associated with aversion to aloneness and voluntary aloneness for activity. Finally, the academic self-concept was negatively associated with parent-related loneliness and positively associated with voluntary aloneness for concentration. The data were discussed in the light of developmental tasks of late childhood.
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Background The detrimental role of childhood emotional neglect (CEN) on long-term affective and social development has received increasing attention in the literature. Individuals who were emotionally neglected during their childhood are more prone to feeling isolated and excluded by their parent during adolescence. However, little is known about the mediating processes underlying this association. Objective This study investigated whether self–other differentiation (SOD) and emotional detachment from parents mediate the link between CEN and parent-related loneliness. Method and participants A sample of 535 high school students aged 13–18 years (63.6% female; Mage = 16.21; SD = 1.40) completed questionnaires regarding demographics, CEN, SOD, emotional detachment, and parent-related loneliness. Results After controlling for demographic covariates, structural equation modeling (SEM) showed that (a) CEN was positively associated with parent-related loneliness ( = .64, p < .001), (b) SOD did not mediate the relationship between CEN and parent-related loneliness ( = −.01, p = .142), (c) emotional detachment partially mediated the relationship between CEN and parent-related loneliness ( = .16, p < .001), and (d) SOD and emotional detachment partially and sequentially mediated the link between CEN and parent-related loneliness, albeit with a small effect size ( = .02, p = .027). Conclusions The findings underscore the significance of the link between CEN and parent-related loneliness in adolescence. Moreover, our results suggest that some adolescents with a history of CEN have difficulties in establishing clear boundaries between “self” and “other” and tend to engage in emotionally detached relationships with their parents, which may lead them to feel more parent-related loneliness. Clinical implications and directions for future research are discussed.
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Introduction: Motivation is an overlooked but crucial factor in determining whether solitude is psychologically beneficial or risky. This paper describes the development and validation of the Motivation for Solitude Scale - Short-Form (MSS-SF), a measure grounded in Self-Determination Theory that differentiates between intrinsic versus extrinsic motivations for solitude. Methods: Emerging adult (N = 803) and adolescent (N = 176) participants were recruited in four successive samples from the United States for the purposes of scale development and validation. Participants completed an on-line survey that included the MSS-SF and various well-being and personality measures. Results & conclusions: Confirmatory Factor Analyses resulted in a two-factor solution, selfdetermined solitude (SDS) and not self-determined solitude (NSDS), and showed the MSS-SF to be reliable with adolescents and emerging adults, with satisfactory convergent and discriminant validity. Engaging in solitude for extrinsic, not self-determined reasons was associated with loneliness, social anxiety, and depressive symptomatology; in contrast, solitude chosen for intrinsic, self-determined reasons was positively correlated with well-being, for emerging adults in particular. The MSS-SF goes beyond preference for solitude to distinguish two distinctly different motivations for solitude, and in so doing, allows researchers to better understand the affordances and risks of being alone for adolescents and emerging adults.
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School-age children’s ability to distinguish among the concepts of aloneness, loneliness, and solitude was the focus of this study. This ability has been largely neglected by researchers. Also, the relation of this ability with self-reported loneliness was examined. Individual interviews were conducted with 180 second, fourth, and sixth graders from Athens, Greece. Their responses were qualitatively and quantitatively analysed. Results showed that school-age children were able to perceive the differences between aloneness and loneliness, although they frequently associated being alone with feeling lonely. Nearly half of them perceived the motivational dimension, which distinguishes voluntary from involuntary aloneness. The ability to recognise the existence of beneficial aloneness, that is, solitude, was extremely limited among second graders, but increased dramatically up to the beginning of adolescence. About two thirds of the total sample acknowledged the human desire to be alone. Girls were significantly more able than boys to perceive the differences between aloneness and loneliness, the motivational dimension, and the desire to be alone. More than two-thirds of the total sample had experienced loneliness, but this experience appeared to be unrelated to their understanding of the various aloneness concepts. Age and gender differences, as well as children’s various justifications of their responses, are discussed in the framework of the existing theoretical and research literature on children’s aloneness, loneliness, and solitude.
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