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Popularity, Friendship Quantity, and Friendship Quality: Interactive Influences on Children's Loneliness and Depression



A mediational model positing that the effects of popularity on children's loneliness and depression are passed through indexes of friendship experiences was tested using structural equation modeling. Children (193 3rd through 6th graders) completed a battery of sociometric and self-report questionnaires from which measures of popularity, multiple friendship dimensions (i.e., quantity and quality of best and good friendships), and loneliness and depression were derived. Confirmation of a slightly modified model supported the mediational hypothesis. Although popularity exerted no direct impact on the adjustment indexes, it strongly influenced friendship, which, in turn, affected depression through its strong association with loneliness. It appears that popularity is important for setting the stage for relationship development, but that it is dyadic friendship experiences that most directly influence feelings of loneliness and depression.
Popularity, Friendship Quantity, and Friendship Quality: Interactive
Influences on Children’s Loneliness and Depression
Douglas W. Nangle, Cynthia A. Erdley, Julie E. Newman, Craig A. Mason, and
Erika M. Carpenter
Department of Psychology, University of Maine
A mediational model positing that the effects of popularity on children’s loneliness
and depression are passed through indexes of friendship experiences was tested using
structural equation modeling. Children (193 3rd through 6th graders) completed a
battery of sociometric and self-report questionnaires from which measures of popu
larity, multiple friendship dimensions (i.e., quantity and quality of best and good
friendships), and loneliness and depression were derived. Confirmation of a slightly
modified model supported the mediational hypothesis. Although popularity exerted
no direct impact on the adjustment indexes, it strongly influenced friendship, which,
in turn, affected depression through its strong association with loneliness. It appears
that popularity is important for setting the stage for relationship development, but
that it is dyadic friendship experiences that most directly influence feelings of loneli
ness and depression.
The bulk of empirical support for the association
between children’s peer relationships and their psy-
chological adjustment comes from investigations of
popularity, a unilateral construct referring to the de-
gree to which a child is liked by the peer group (see
Newcomb, Bukowski, & Pattee, 1993, for review). Re-
searchers have made another distinction in children’s
peer experiences by examining friendship, a bilateral
construct referring to a child’s participation in a close,
mutual, dyadic relationship. This distinction is impor
tant, as popularity and friendship are constructs with
overlapping yet unique influences on development and
adjustment (Buhrmester & Furman, 1986; Furman &
Robbins, 1985; Sullivan, 1953). Sullivan proposed that
the relative importance of popularity and friendship
changes across development as different social needs
emerge. The need for group acceptance is paramount
in middle childhood and gives way to an increasing re
liance on intimacy as children enter preadolescence.
Despite their changing roles and importance,
Sullivan (1953) believed that both popularity and
friendship continue to impact adjustment throughout
childhood. Consistent with this notion, even studies of
young children demonstrate the unique contribution of
friendship to adjustment (e.g., Ladd, Kochenderfer, &
Coleman, 1997; Parker & Asher, 1993). For example,
using a middle childhood sample, Parker and Asher
found that having a friend, friendship quality, and pop-
ularity made unique contributions to the prediction of
loneliness. Interestingly, not all high-accepted children
had friends, and many low-accepted children did have
friends. Furthermore, regardless of their level of group
acceptance, children without friends were lonelier than
children who were involved in at least one mutual
friendship. Nevertheless, in a demonstration of the
overlap in the peer experience dimensions, better ac
cepted children were almost twice as likely to have a
friend as their less accepted peers. In addition, the
better accepted children tended to perceive their
friendships as being higher in quality. Examining the
close association between popularity and friendship,
Bukowski, Pizzamiglio, Newcomb, and Hoza (1996)
found support for the idea that being liked by the group
is antecedent to friendship development. That is, a
larger social network affords a child more opportuni
ties for friendship formation.
Further discriminations in the friendship construct
have been proposed in the hopes of more adequately
capturing the fullness of children’s peer experiences
(Bukowski & Hoza, 1989; Hartup, 1996). As part of
their hierarchical friendship model, Bukowski and
Hoza recommended a multilevel assessment com
posed of determining whether a child has a friend, how
many mutual friendships that child has, and what the
quality of those friendships is. The importance of hav
ing a friend to a child’s development and adjustment is
well established (e.g., Parker & Asher, 1993; Sander
son & Siegal, 1995). The value of the quantity dimen
Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
2003, Vol. 32, No. 4, 546–555
Copyright © 2003 by
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Thanks to Bill Bukowski for his valuable input in developing the
conceptual basis for this project. We would also like to acknowledge
the assistance of the principals and teachers at the Hermon Elemen
tary, Caravel Middle, Levant Elementary, and Holbrook Schools.
Without their efforts, we could not have completed the study.
Requests for reprints should be sent to Douglas W. Nangle, De
partment of Psychology, University of Maine, Orono,
ME 04469–5742. E-mail
sion (i.e., the number of friendships in which a child is
involved), however, is not as clear. In one study, Ladd
et al. (1997) determined that although friendship quan
tity did not add to the prediction of children’s loneli
ness as they made the transition to kindergarten, it did
add to the prediction of other adjustment indexes, such
as academic readiness and school involvement. In
comparison, evaluations of the quality dimension, a
child’s impression of the degree to which a given rela
tionship meets specified needs ranging from the provi
sion of opportunities for play and companionship to al
lowing for intimate disclosure and exchange (e.g.,
Berndt & Perry, 1986; Parker & Asher, 1993), have es
tablished its worth as a distinct component of friend
ship with implications for adjustment (e.g., Hoza,
Bukowski, & Beery, 2000; Oldenburg & Kerns, 1997;
Parker & Asher, 1993).
Evaluating the proposed multidimensionality of
friendship would be facilitated by the use of more re
cently developed statistical procedures. To date, most
studies have employed covariance techniques, such as
regression, to determine whether friendship has any ef
fect on single adjustment indicators after the effects at
tributable to popularity, the more established predictor,
are partialed out (Bukowski & Hoza, 1989). Because
friendship shares variance with popularity, however, its
overall effects on adjustment are underestimated by
considering only nonshared variance (Bukowski &
Hoza, 1989). Alternatively, structural equation model-
ing allows for the examination of simultaneous effects
of multiple predictors on one or more outcome mea-
sures while taking the interrelations among the predic-
tors into consideration (see Biddle & Marlin, 1987, for
a review). Another advantage is that the “fit” of the
overall model is assessed. For example, in a study with
early adolescents, Bukowski, Hoza, and Boivin (1993)
found support for a complex model positing that popu
larity exerts an indirect influence on loneliness through
its effects on mutual friendship and feelings of
This study examined the simultaneous influences of
popularity and multiple friendship dimensions of
friendship on children’s loneliness and depression us
ing structural equation modeling. Measures of popu
larity, friendship quantity, friendship quality, and lone
liness and depression were derived from sociometric
procedures and psychological adjustment question
naires. The longstanding question of whether friend
ship is a categorical or continuous construct (Hartup,
1996; Price & Ladd, 1986) was addressed by the use of
two different friendship levels: (a) “good” friendships,
defined as whether either of two peers nominated the
other and the two gave one another peer ratings of at
least 4 and (b) “best” friendships, defined by reciprocal
best friend nominations (see Erdley, Nangle, & Gold,
1998, for a comparison of different friendship defini
tions). Another unique aspect of this study was the
evaluation of the contributions of having more than one
friendship and of having friendships of varying quality
to adjustment.
The use of middle childhood participants and selec
tion of loneliness and depression as adjustment indica
tors was based on several considerations. As outlined
earlier, during this developmental stage, children are
just beginning to experience a shift in the priority of
their social needs from acceptance to intimacy. As
such, this is an opportune time to evaluate a model pos
iting a mediational role for friendship. Furthermore, in
addition to the solid body of studies linking popularity
and the various friendship dimensions with this age
group, there is a well-developed literature connecting
peer variables to children’s loneliness and depression.
Numerous studies have shown that children who are
rejected by their peer group experience higher levels of
loneliness and social dissatisfaction than their better
accepted peers (see Asher, Parkhurst, Hymel, & Wil
liams, 1990, for a review). Even so, there is consider
able variability in rejected children’s reports of loneli
ness. In addition to the actual degree of rejection
experienced by children and its chronicity, Asher et al.
suggested that this variability may be due to the fact
that some rejected children have at least one friend who
provides an important source of emotional support, an
assertion validated in a number of more recent studies
(e.g., Hoza et al., 2000; Parker & Asher, 1993; Sander-
son & Siegal, 1995). Depression is also associated with
problematic peer relationships (Boivin, Hymel, &
Bukowski, 1995; Boivin, Poulin, & Vitaro, 1994;
Burks, Dodge, & Price, 1995). As with loneliness,
friendship experiences can serve as a buffer between
peer group rejection and depression (Bagwell, New
comb, & Bukowski, 1998; Oldenburg & Kerns, 1997).
In summary, we tested a mediational model in which
the effect of popularity on the adjustment indexes is
passed through the friendship variables (see Figure 1).
Popularity was hypothesizedto form direct associations
with the friendship variables, but not with loneliness or
depression (Bukowski et al., 1993; Bukowski et al.,
1996). Reflective of the quantity–quality distinction,
good and best friend quantity and quality were expected
to form two distinct latent variables representing the
friendship construct. Direct links between the latent
friendship variables and loneliness were also posited.
Finally, our hypothesis that loneliness would mediate
the relation between the peer variables and depression
was based on the findings of Boivin et al. (1995). In
model testing with longitudinal data, these authors
found that loneliness mediated the relation between
negative peer experiences, such as withdrawal and re
jection, and depressed mood. Such experiences appear
to lead to depressed mood when they cause children to
feel badly about their social situations. No a priori sex
hypotheses were generated. Despite speculation that in
ternalizing problems may be more closely related to
group acceptance for boys and more closely related to
friendship for girls (Burks et al., 1995), some studies
have found sex differences in how peer variables relate
to internalizing difficulties (e.g., Oldenburg & Kerns,
1997) and others havenot(e.g.,Parker&Asher,1993).
The participants included 193 third- through
sixth-grade students (103 boys, 90 girls; 99% Euro
pean American) who were recruited from elementary
schools located in low- to middle-income communities
in northern New England. Data were collected from all
students who had permission from their parent or
guardian to participate in this project and who gave
their own assent (76% participation rate).
The data were collected across two testing sessions,
spaced approximately 2 weeks apart. All experimental
sessions lasted approximately 45 min and were con
ducted in the children’s classrooms using group ad
ministration of the measures. In the first session, chil-
dren were asked to indicate how much they liked to
play with each of their classmates (peer acceptance rat
ings). They were also instructed to circle the names of
their three best friends (limited positive nominations).
Then the children completed measures that assessed
feelings of loneliness and depression.
Prior to the second session, every possible dyad
within each classroom was examined to determine
whether that dyad met fairly liberal criteria for friend
ship (i.e., either of the two peers nominated the other
and the two had an average mutual peer rating of 4 or
greater; Berndt & Perry, 1986). In the second session,
children completed a friendship quality questionnaire
for each of their previously identified friendships. All
children rated at least three friendships. If children did
not have three friendships that met our criteria, they
completed friendship quality questionnaires concern
ing the three children they circled as their best friends,
three children they rated highly, or some combination
of the two. Friendship quality data for such
nonreciprocated friendships were discarded from fur
ther analyses.
With the exception of the friendship quality mea
sure, all questionnaires were read out loud to ensure
that children understood, regardless of their reading
Figure 1. Proposed model linking the peer and adjustment variables.
level. Children were taught how to use each response
scale via several practice items, and they reported their
responses in individual packets.
Sociometric assessment. Children’s level of
peer acceptance was assessed by presenting students
with a class roster (listing only those students who had
permission to participate) and asking them to rate on a
5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (I don’t like to)to5
(Iliketoalot) how much they like to play with each of
their classmates. A child’s peer acceptance score was
the mean rating received from all participants in the
classroom who rated him or her. For the peer nomina
tion measure, children were asked to circle the names
of their three best friends on a separate class list.
Best-friend quantity was defined as the total number
of reciprocated best friend nominations for each child.
Good friend quantity was defined as the total number
of friendships for each child that met the following cri
teria: either of the two peers nominated the other, the
two children gave each other a peer rating of 4 or
greater, and the pair had not met the criterion of recip-
rocated positive nominations. We had originally in-
tended to use the good friend definition put forth by
Berndt and Perry (1986) as described previously but
chose an alternative because of the fact that requiring
only an average peer rating of 4 leaves room for neutral
Friendship quality. Children reported their per-
ceptions of various qualitative aspects of their previ-
ously identified friendship dyads using a modified ver
sion of the Friendship Quality Questionnaire–Revised
(Parker & Asher, 1993). This modified questionnaire
included the three items that, according to Parker and
Asher, showed the strongest loadings on each of the
following six factors: validation (e.g., “My friend
makes me feel good about my ideas”), conflict (e.g.,
“My friend and I argue a lot”), conflict resolution (e.g.,
“My friend and I make up easily when we have a
fight”), help and guidance (e.g., “My friend helps me
so I can get done quicker”), companionship (e.g., “My
friend and I always sit together at lunch”), and inti
macy (e.g., “My friend and I always tell each other our
Children responded to these items on a 5-point
scale ranging from 1 (not at all true)to5(really
true). Each child rated at least three friendships. For
each questionnaire, the name of a specific friend was
inserted into each individual item using word-pro
cessing software. According to Parker and Asher
(1993), this method is used to reduce the likelihood
that children will complete the questionnaire based
on an ideal friendship or mental representation of a
combination of many different friendships. Consis
tent with previous research using this measure, a total
friendship quality score was used in this study
(Parker & Asher, 1993). Best friend quality was the
mean of the average ratings for each of the six
Friendship Quality Questionnaire–Revised factor
scores across each child’s identified best friendships
(α = .90 for boys and .95 for girls using the modified
version). Likewise, good friend quality was the mean
of the average ratings for each of the six Friendship
Quality Questionnaire–Revised factor scores across
each child’s identified good friendships (α =.81for
boys and .87 for girls using the modified version).
Loneliness. Using the Asher and Wheeler
(1985) Loneliness and Social Dissatisfaction Ques
tionnaire, children were asked to rate themselves on a
5-point scale ranging from 1 (that’s not true at all
about me)to5(that’s always true about me) across
24 items, 16 of which assess feelings of loneliness
and social dissatisfaction at school (e.g., “I feel alone
at school” and “There are no other kids I can go to
when I need help at school”) and 8 of which are filler
items. This measure has been used extensively with
third- through sixth-grade children (Asher et al.,
1990). Results of factor analyses reported by Asher et
al. revealed a single factor comprising 16 primary
loneliness and social dissatisfaction items. Consistent
with previous research using this measure (e.g.,
Asher et al., 1990), reliability analyses based on data
collected for this study revealed high internal consis-
tency (coefficient α = .93).
Depression. Children’s feelings of depression
were assessed using the Children’s Depression Inven
tory (Kovacs, 1985), a 27-item self-report question
naire that assesses the presence and severity of affec
tive, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms of
depression. For each item, participants chose one of
three responses that described their feelings and ideas
during the past 2 weeks (e.g., “I am sad once in a
while, “I am sad many times, “I am sad all the time”).
Responses were scored on a 3-point scale ranging from
0(symptom is absent)to2(symptom is present most of
the time). For this study, the Institutional Review
Board asked us to remove the suicidal ideation item.
As such, children completed 26 items and could obtain
a total score that ranged from 0 to 52, with higher
scores indicating greater incidence and severity of de
pressive symptoms. Adequate psychometric properties
for the Children’s Depression Inventory have been re
ported across several studies (Carey, Gresham,
Ruggiero, Faulstich, & Enyart, 1987; Kovacs, 1985;
Smucker, Craighead, Craighead, & Green, 1986). In
ternal consistency for the Children’s Depression Inven
tory in this study was .90.
Preliminary Analyses
A correlation matrix that includes means and stan
dard deviations for the peer and adjustment variables is
presented in Table 1. As expected, for both boys and
girls, popularity was generally highly correlated with
each of the friendship dimensions. Correlations among
the friendship variables ranged from highly significant
for the good friend quantity–best friend quantity corre
lation, to nonsignificant for the good friend quan
tity–best friend quality correlation. Correlations be
tween the friendship variables and loneliness were in
the expected directions, although the correlations be
tween the quality variables and loneliness were not sig
nificant among girls. Finally, loneliness was highly
correlated with depression for both boys and girls.
Proposed Model
Based on the correlations, it was decided that the er
rors for the two best friend variables and the errors for
the two good friend variables be allowed to covary.
Preliminary structural equation analyses also sug-
gested that the two separate factors representing
Friendship Quality and Friendship Quantity either be
integrated into a single factor or combined under a sec-
ond-order Friendship factor. Both of these models
were tested and resulted in similar coefficients be-
tween the key constructs of Popularity, Friendship,
Loneliness, and Depression. However, an examination
of the fit indexes and the various factor loadings sug-
gested that a model based on a second-order factor
comprising the friendship quality and friendship quan
tity latent variables was preferred.
With these modifications, the final model was a
good fit to the data. Although the sample-size sensitive
chi-square test was significant, χ
(10) = 27.102, p =
.003, the Normed Fit Index and comparative fit index
suggested an excellent fit (.990 and .994, respectively).
The final model, with standardized path coefficients, is
presented in Figure 2. Popularity and the friendship
variables accounted for 33.7% of the variance in loneli
ness scores, and the entire model accounted for 36.8%
of the variance in depression scores.
Alternative Direct-Effects Model
Even though the proposed model proved to be a
good fit with the data, additional analyses were per
formed comparing it to a model in which popularity
had a direct effect on loneliness and both popularity
and friendship had direct effects on depression. In es
sence, although the proposed model posits an entirely
mediational model, this alternative model allows for
both mediation and direct effects among popularity,
friendship, loneliness, and depression. The inclusion
of these additional paths did not improve the fit of the
model, ∆χ
(3) = 4.827, p > .10, and none of the addi
tional paths were significant. In the interest of parsi
mony, the more restricted proposed model is therefore
preferred, suggesting a strong mediational pathway.
Sex Equivalence
Finally, analyses were performed examining the sex
equivalence of the model. A multigroup analysis of the
final model with all means, intercepts, path coeffi-
cients, variances, and covariances required to be equal
for both boys and girls was tested. This highly restric-
tive model forces all standardized and unstandardized
path coefficients and covariances to be identical across
sex, but nevertheless resulted in a marginally good fit
to the data, χ
(45) = 72.344, p = .006, Normed Fit In-
dex = .974, comparative fit index = .990. Allowing
means and intercepts for all measured variables to vary
based on sex resulted in a significant improvement in
the fit of the model, ∆χ
(8) = 18.089, p < .05. Allowing
the coefficients for the three key mediational paths
(popularity to friendship, friendship to loneliness, and
loneliness to depression) to vary resulted in a margin
ally significant improvement in fit, ∆χ
(3) = 6.965, p =
.07). Closer examination suggested that this was due to
Table 1. Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations Amongst the Peer and Adjustment Variables
Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Boys Girls Boys Girls
1. Popularity .55*** .72*** .49*** .43*** –.54*** –.25* 2.78 2.71 .74 .55
2. Best friend quantity .55*** .69*** .61*** .06 –.50*** –.27** 1.62 1.61 1.12 .94
3. Good friend quantity .65*** .64 .57*** .52*** –.57*** –.31*** 1.59 1.32 1.49 1.26
4. Best friend quality .38** .47*** .36*** .23* –.54*** –.36*** 2.97 3.27 1.30 1.27
5. Good friend quality .28 .11 .54*** .11 –.26** –.16 2.50 2.34 1.15 1.12
6. Loneliness –.22* –.37*** –.39*** –.20 –.07 .68*** 2.02 2.05 .61 .60
7. Depression –.12 –.15 –.19 –.19 –.17 .51*** 7.48 6.56 7.63 6.08
Note: Correlations for boys (n = 103) are reported above the diagonal, girls (n = 90) below the diagonal. Children without best (n = 33) or good (n
= 54) friendships were scored 0 on the respective quality measure.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
sex differences in the loneliness to depression pathway,
(1) = 6.527, p = .01. Specifically, the pathway be-
tween loneliness and depression was greater for boys
(standardized path = .700) than for girls (standardized
path = .490). A series of analyses examining potential
sex differences in the factor loadings of the friendship
quality or the friendship quantity latent variables, or
the Friendship second-order factor, found no evidence
of sex differences—with the exception of the previ
ously noted difference in intercepts for the measured
Somewhat surprisingly, in light of the suppositions
of Sullivan (1953) and others, we found support for a
fully mediational model using a middle childhood
sample. Differing from past studies with this age
group, we incorporated a multidimensional assessment
of the friendship construct and a statistical approach al
lowing for an analysis of simultaneous influences.
Consistent with our proposed model, popularity
strongly influenced friendship, which emerged as a
single factor combining the two posited latent quantity
and quality variables. Also consistent with our hypoth
eses, the impact of the peer variables on depression
was passed through loneliness.
These findings do not detract from the importance
of popularity. Rather, they shed light on the possible
pathways through which popularity might influence
friendship and adjustment. In teasing apart the popu
larity and friendship constructs, Bukowski et al. (1996)
found support for the contention that popularity is an
affordance of friendship. Temporally antecedent to
friendship, popularity increases the likelihood that
children will form dyadic relationships. Better ac
cepted children would have increased opportunities to
form friendships because the “pool” of peers who like
them is larger. In addition to this increased exposure,
better accepted children would also be more likely to
have the social skills needed to capitalize on these op
portunities and form more lasting, higher quality rela
tionships (Asher, Parker, & Walker, 1996; Parker &
Asher, 1993). Another factor increasing the chances
that relationships would be formed is the likelihood
that the peers who like these better accepted children
are themselves more accepted and socially skilled
(Nangle, Erdley, & Gold, 1996).
In turn, it is the increased size and relative quality of
the friendship networks of more popular children that
appears to buffer them from feelings of loneliness and
Figure 2. Final model linking the peer and adjustment variables. †, parameter fixed, all other paths significant at p < .001.
social dissatisfaction. Thus, even before adolescence,
the mutuality that is unique to friendships appears to be
critical. Perhaps the provisions primarily associated
with close friendships, which include affection, inti
macy, and sense of reliable alliance (Furman & Rob
bins, 1985), are more important in determining loneli
ness than the sense of inclusion that results from group
acceptance. In light of the theories of Sullivan and oth
ers suggesting that with age friendship becomes in
creasingly important, more research addressing devel
opmental differences in the relation between
friendship and adjustment is needed.
The centrality of the quantity and quality dimen
sions in determining adjustment strongly supports the
need for a hierarchical conceptualization of the friend
ship construct (Bukowski & Hoza, 1989; Hartup,
1996). Regarding the quantity dimension, the number
of both types of friends was important in predicting ad
justment. Considering that our findings in the context
of past research is made difficult by the fact that most
studies have investigated the role of quantity using ad
olescent samples. Echoing our earlier suggestion,
more research addressing possible developmental dif
ferences is needed. Confirmation of the significance of
the quality dimension in determining adjustment is a
robust finding that has held across a number of studies
with children of varying ages (e.g., Bukowski et al.,
1993; Hoza et al., 2000; Oldenburg & Kerns, 1997;
Parker & Asher, 1993). Our findings add to existing re-
search by showing that the beneficial effects of friend-
ship quality extend beyond that provided by one best
friendship. Children’s ability to maintain higher qual-
ity mutual relationships across multiple dyads is im-
portant. Taken together, our quantity–quality results
suggest that the positive effects of friendship are cumu
lative. This speaks to the longstanding question of
whether friendship is a categorical or continuous con
struct (Hartup, 1996; Price & Ladd, 1986). Taking a
categorical view, Bukowski and Hoza (1989) criticized
more liberal friendship definitions used to identify
“good” friendships (e.g., Berndt & Perry, 1986) on the
basis that they do not capture the more intense recipro
cal liking they consider to be the essential feature of
friendship. Nevertheless, in concert with the stipula
tions of Berndt (1981), the direct links formed between
the good friend dimensions and the latent quantity and
quality variables in the confirmed model indicate that
these somewhat less intense relationships play an im
portant role in determining adjustment. As such,
friendship appears to be more of a continuous con
struct comprised of varying levels of relationships. At a
more conceptual level, the notion of continuity fits
with the proposals of Sullivan (1953) and others (e.g.,
Furman & Robbins, 1985) that different functions are
served by different types of relationships. If mere ac
quaintances are thought to fulfill important functions
that sometimes overlap with those served by close
friendships, then it seems reasonable to assume that
good friendships make unique contributions to chil
dren’s adjustment. For instance, although children may
experience less intimacy in their good friendships,
these relationships are likely to provide valuable
sources of instrumental aid, nurturance, worth en
hancement, and companionship. Unfortunately, de
spite the debate in the literature, we are not aware of
any other studies addressing the possibility that there
may be qualitative differences in the relationships
identified using the different definitional criteria. No
doubt, progress in this area has been hampered by the
continued use of as many as five different definitions as
interchangeably representing the friendship construct
(see Erdley et al., 1998, for a review).
Loneliness proved to be the gateway through which
the peer variables, particularly friendship, impacted
depressed mood. Fitting well with past studies testing
multivariate models, peer difficulties appeared to in
crease the risk of depression when they became inter
nalized and adversely affected children’s perceptions
of their social environment (Boivin et al., 1995). More
over, these perceptions were shaped more by children’s
friendship experiences than their overall group accep-
tance (Bukowski et al., 1993). Recent research has be-
gun to explore the possibility that there are subtypes of
loneliness derived from different social relationships
(Hoza et al., 2000). For instance, Hoza et al. deter-
mined that unsatisfactory peer group experiences were
more related to peer-network loneliness (i.e., loneli-
ness associated with isolation from the peer group),
whereas the lack of a close friend was more related to
dyadic loneliness (i.e., loneliness associated with the
absence of a close friendship). In their review, these au
thors criticized the one-dimensional structure of the
loneliness measure (Asher & Wheeler, 1985) used in
this study because of its hypothesized lack of sensitiv
ity to such subtypes. At the heart of this critique was
the concern that the Asher and Wheeler measure inade
quately assesses the loneliness associated with close
friendships. The direct paths between friendship and
loneliness, along with the absence of any paths directly
linking popularity and loneliness, found in this study
appear to suggest otherwise. Retesting our model using
the Peer Network and Dyadic Loneliness Scale devel
oped by Hoza et al. (2000) might result in strengthened
connections between the friendship variables and lone
liness (i.e., dyadic loneliness), as well as an emerging
link between popularity and loneliness (i.e., peer-net
work loneliness). Another interesting possibility is that
the distinction might better explain the stronger con
nection between loneliness and depression found for
the boys in our sample. Hoza et al. found that boys ex
perienced more dyadic loneliness than did girls.
The aforementioned loneliness finding notwith
standing, we found no sex differences in our overall
model. Our reluctance to form any a priori sex hypoth
eses was based on the mixed findings of previous stud
ies examining potential sex differences in peer rela
tionship experiences and adjustment (Burks et al.,
1995; Oldenburg & Kerns, 1997; Parker & Asher,
1993). The only one of these studies using participants
similar in age to those in our investigation and assess
ing friendship also found no sex effects in analyses ex
ploring the connection between peer variables and ad
justment (Parker & Asher, 1993). There has been some
speculation that friendship experiences may be more
important for the adjustment of girls than boys (Burks
et al., 1995). The peer groups of boys tend to be more
global and group based, whereas those of girls tend to
include more intimate dyadic or small-group friend
ships (Eder & Hallinan, 1978). Hence, girls may be
more apt to rely on alternative types of relationships,
such as close friendships, to provide them with added
protection from the negative consequences of peer re
jection. Burks et al. used this reasoning to explain their
finding that the extent of peer rejection experienced
over a 2-year period predicted internalizing difficulties
at 3- and 6-year follow-up assessments only for boys.
Our results, along with those of Parker and Asher
(1993), suggest that such sex differences in the ways
that peer variables impact internalizing difficulties are
not evidenced in younger children. Perhaps with time
these sex effects would emerge. Given the cross-sec-
tional longitudinal design of the Burks et al. (1995)
study, the children were older than the participants in
our study at the time of the 3-year follow-up assess-
ment and in early to middle adolescence by the 6-year
follow-up. Again, the need for more research devoted
to the investigation of potential developmental differ-
ences is underscored.
Before discussing the applied implications of our re
sults, we must acknowledge some of the study’s limita
tions. Though the fit of our model was excellent, a larger
sample size would have enhanced our ability to detect
more subtle relations among the variables. For example,
even though stratified analyses suggested that there
were no meaningful differences between boys and girls
in the overall model, a replication with a larger sample
may find more subtle or specific sex-based discrepan
cies in the relations among these variables.
There were also limitations posed by our popularity
and friendship measurements. Regarding the use of
peer ratings, acceptance and rejection are distinct di
mensions of popularity (Bukowski & Hoza, 1989).
Thus, the degree to which our findings regarding popu
larity as measured by peer acceptance ratings are appli
cable to the larger body of studies focusing on rejection
and adjustment (e.g., Asher et al., 1990; Boivin et al.,
1994; Burks et al., 1995) can be questioned. However,
unlike positive and negative nominations that assess
acceptance and rejection respectively, rating scale
sociometrics are viewed by some as composite indexes
that reflect both the acceptance and rejection dimen
sions of the popularity construct (Bukowski & Hoza,
As a closely related measurement consideration, the
addition of negative nominations, particularly given
our interest in internalizing syndromes, would have en
abled us to examine different sociometric classifica
tions. Our good friend definition incorporated peer rat
ings. Some researchers have suggested that friendship
criteria be based on nomination data to avoid con
founds with popularity measures (Bukowski et al.,
1996; Parker & Asher, 1993). Nonetheless, given the
shared basis in liking, the ability to avoid such con
founds seems limited and, perhaps, conceptually un
warranted. Moreover, the degree to which nominations
and high ratings differ functionally is questionable
(Bukowski et al., 1996; Erdley et al., 1998). At any
rate, the fact that our good friend operationalization
may have affected the formation of a direct path be
tween popularity and loneliness is worth considering.
Perhaps using unlimited friendship nominations and
allowing children to circle their “very best” friends
would have been a better alternative (A. M. La Greca,
personal communication, December 5, 2002). Finally,
an important consideration is the direction of effects.
The flow of effects is likely to be more bidirectional
than is suggested in our model. Depression may inten-
sify feelings of loneliness and adversely impact accep-
tance and friendships. We did perform additional anal-
yses examining multiple directions, and none
suggested a backward pathway between depression
and friendship. However, support was found for a pos-
sible pathway from loneliness to friendship.
Clinically, our results suggest that intervention ef-
forts might be better directed at developing and im
proving dyadic friendships than enhancing children’s
overall peer acceptance. In addition to the limited abil
ity of most social skills training interventions to alter
peer group status (Asher et al., 1996), our results indi
cate that, even when successful, these treatments are
only likely to have an indirect effect on children’s so
cial adjustment through their impact on friendship.
When children become more popular, they are more
likely to form more friendships. More friendships of
relatively higher quality provide these now more popu
lar children with greater protection from loneliness,
which, in turn, lessens their overall risk of depression.
Attention to improving friendship quality is particu
larly important in light of findings showing that friend
ships that are higher in conflict might place children at
increased risk for negative outcomes (Berndt, 1996).
However, despite the demonstrated ability of even one
close friendship to compensate for the negative effects
of peer rejection (e.g., Parker & Asher, 1993), there
have been very few studies evaluating interventions
that seek to enhance children’s friendship development
(see Frankel, Myatt, & Cantwell, 1995; Mrug, Hoza, &
Gerdes, 2001, as example interventions).
In closing, a cautionary note is in order. The relation
between friendship and adjustment is not always posi
tive. For example, friendships among certain children
may actually have deleterious effects. In systematic re
search, Dishion Andrews, and Crosby (1995) have
shown that associations between deviant adolescents
predict escalations in substance abuse, delinquency,
and violent behavior. Other researchers examining the
impact of friendship on externalizing difficulties have
found similar effects (e.g., Berndt & Keefe, 1995;
Hoza, Molina, Bukowski, & Sippola, 1995). An inter
esting possibility is that the same friendships that pro
tect some children from internalizing problems also
encourage escalations in antisocial behavior. Ulti
mately, determining the full impact of friendship on
adjustment will be a very complex undertaking incor
porating measures of who is included in children’s
friendship networks (Hartup, 1996), friendship quan
tity and quality, and multiple adjustment indexes (e.g.,
internalizing, externalizing). All in all, it is likely that
such research will discover multiple and variant path
ways linking children’s friendship experiences to ad
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Received October 15, 2002
Accepted June 13, 2003
... Since children's engagement in play activities is determined by their own preferences [19], we are interested in the potential social benefits of a child's successful peer play interactions. In keeping with other literatures emphasising the unique developmental contribution that peer interactions can make to children's socio-emotional development, we hypothesise that the ability to successfully play with peers has potential to contribute to mental health over and above more general play experiences or abilities, for example play with parents or siblings [20][21][22]. As illustrated schematically in Fig. 1, we propose two main routes for peer play ability to influence mental health over developmental time, firstly via honing socio-cognitive competencies and secondly by developing skills in self-regulation. ...
... However, at the same time, they create opportunities for disputes and negotiations among children over possible choices of props, competition for toys, different opinions over the given rules and so on [32]. Thus, self-regulatory skills enhanced during peer play may also contribute to the number and strength of social bonds in a child's network, which in turn offer protective effects against the likelihood of mental health difficulties [22,24]. ...
... As Smith argued [14], social play allows animals and humans to practise complex skills and improve behavioural flexibilities to adjust to new contexts. Similarly, our conceptual framework in Fig. 1 suggests that successful peer play experiences could facilitate the development of sociocognitive and self-regulatory skills, contributing towards emotional intimacy and building higher quality links in peer networks, which further reduce risk of potential mental health problems [12,22,26]. In addition, peer play ability at age 3 was found to act as a protective factor for hyperactivity at age 7 for both those with low levels of persistence and those with high levels of reactivity. ...
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Peer play ability may be a protective factor against childhood mental health difficulties but there is lack of empirical evidence to support this hypothesis. We conducted longitudinal structural equation modelling study over a population cohort (N = 1676) to examine the effect of age 3 peer play ability on children’s age 7 mental health outcomes (measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire subscales). We modelled effects for the entire population and two sub-groups at high-risk for mental health problems based on age 3 temperament. Controlling for demographic variables, temperament, maternal distress, play with parents and number of siblings, better peer play ability at age 3 years predicted lower risk of problems on all 4 SDQ subscales at age 7 years for the general population. For the low-persistence subgroup, better peer play ability at age 3 predicted lower risk of age 7 hyperactivity, emotional and peer problems, whereas better peer play ability at age 3 predicted only lower risk of age 7 hyperactivity for the high-reactivity group. Taken together our results provide evidence that supports the hypothesis that early peer play ability may be a protective factor against later mental health difficulties. We conclude that further research aimed at establishing causation is worth pursuing.
... Although distinct phenomena, loneliness and depressive symptoms have been found to be somewhat overlapping constructs during adolescence, i.e. they may occur either simultaneously or independently (Spithoven et al., 2013). Among adolescents, loneliness has even been linked to both friendship quantity and quality (Nangle et al., 2003). Self-reported loneliness can moreover be used to predict whether early adolescents experience a lack of peer acceptance or poor-quality friendships (Kingery & Erdley, 2007;Parker & Asher, 1993). ...
Mental health problems among adolescents and young adults are increasing worldwide together with loneliness, which is considered a global public health problem. The aim of this study was to explore loneliness through adolescents’ and young adults’ own descriptions and experiences. The research questions were: (1) How do adolescents and young adults describe and experience loneliness?, (2) What types of loneliness do adolescents and young adults describe? Data were collected through interviews with fifteen Swedish-speaking Finns aged 17–30. Content analysis was used for data analysis. Loneliness was linked to earlier negative experiences, mental illness or physical disorders, self-centred society, social norms and social media. Three different types of loneliness were identified: social loneliness, emotional loneliness and existential loneliness. It is important that adults and professionals are able to identify, interpret and understand signs that adolescents and young adults are experiencing negative feelings, which may indicate underlying loneliness.
... For example, children who are aggressive (acting in ways that are disruptive or hurt other people) tend to have internalizing emotional problems such as anxiety and depression (Chen et al., 2012;Holt & Espelage, 2007). Children who have poor peer relationships (e.g., socially rejected by others, lack of friendship) tend to have a range of negative emotions such as depression, loneliness and sadness (e.g., Boivin et al., 1994;Nangle et al., 2003). Academic problems have been found to be associated with negative emotions such as anxiety and decreased liking of school (Løhre et al., 2010; also see, Valiente et al., 2012 for a review). ...
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Happiness is valued as one of the most important goals in raising children, but what factors make children happy? Inspired by philosophical conceptions of ‘eudaimonia’ in life, we investigated how children’s social and academic functioning, including prosocial behaviors, peer preference, and academic achievement, may be related to happiness, over and above desire satisfaction. Participants included 2,144 children (initial ages of 9 and 10 years) in China. Two waves of longitudinal data were collected from multiple sources including self-reports, peer evaluations, and school records. Cross-lagged panel analysis indicated that prosocial behaviors, peer preference, and academic achievement predicted children’s self-reported happiness over a year, controlling for desire satisfaction. Bidirectional relations were found between peer-assessed happiness and prosocial behaviors, peer preference, and academic achievement. The results suggest that children’s happiness is linked to their social and academic functioning from middle childhood, contributing to a better understanding of the nature and development of happiness.
... Although there has been no similar research, this study supports previous studies which have found that friendship quality positively affects adolescents' mental health. For instance, those with positive peers tend to have lower tendencies towards depression and loneliness (Nangle et al., 2003;Pang, 2018;Smith, 2015). Furthermore, the findings of this study can provide an alternative explanation of the dynamics of the relationship between friendship quality and life satisfaction to those of previous studies (Amati et al., 2018). ...
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Friendship quality plays an essential role for adolescents in achieving optimal life satisfaction. However, previous studies have failed to explain friendship quality and life satisfaction fully. This study examines the role of basic psychological need satisfaction in the relationship between friendship quality and life satisfaction. A total of 450 respondents consisting of three groups of 150 early, middle, and late adolescents participated in this study. Data were collected using quota and convenience sampling methods. Friendship quality, basic psychological need satisfaction, and life satisfaction were measured using the McGill Friendship Questionnaire-Friend's Functions, Sub-scale Satisfaction of the Basic Psychological Need Satisfaction and Frustration Scale, and the Indonesian version of the Satisfaction with Life Scale. The hypothesis was tested using regression analysis and SOBEL macro for SPSS. The results show that basic psychological need satisfaction acts as a full mediator between friendship quality and life satisfaction (indirect effect = .330, z = 8.383, p < .05). In addition, the satisfaction of the need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness can also be a full mediator between friendship quality and life satisfaction. This finding can be an alternative in explaining this relationship between friendship quality and life satisfaction. In addition, the findings can also be used to develop mental health programs for adolescents.
Loneliness is linked to many negative health outcomes and places strain on the economy and the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. To combat these issues, the determinants of loneliness need to be fully understood. Although friendships have been shown to be particularly important in relation to loneliness in older adults, this association has thus far not been explored more closely. Our exploratory study examines the relationship between number of friends and loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress in older adults. Data were obtained from 335 older adults via completion of an online survey. Measures included loneliness (UCLA Loneliness Scale version 3), depression, anxiety and stress (Depression Anxiety Stress Scales DASS-21). Participants also reported their number of close friends. Regression analyses revealed an inverse curvilinear relationship between number of friends and each of the measures tested. Breakpoint analyses demonstrated a threshold for the effect of number of friends on each of the measures (loneliness = 4, depression = 2, anxiety = 3, stress = 2). The results suggest that there is a limit to the benefit of increasing the number of friends in older adults for each of these measures. The elucidation of these optimal thresholds can inform the practice of those involved in loneliness interventions for older adults. These interventions can become more targeted; focusing on either establishing four close friendships, increasing the emotional closeness of existing friendships or concentrating resources on other determinants of loneliness in this population.
Homophily refers to the tendency to like similar others. Here, we ask if homophily extends to brain structure. Specifically: do children who like one another have more similar brain structures? We hypothesized that neuroanatomic similarity tied to friendship is most likely to pertain to brain regions that support social cognition. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed friendship network data from 1186 children in 49 classrooms. Within each classroom, we identified "friendship distance"-mutual friends, friends-of-friends, and more distantly connected or unconnected children. In total, 125 children (mean age = 7.57 years, 65 females) also had good quality neuroanatomic magnetic resonance imaging scans from which we extracted properties of the "social brain." We found that similarity of the social brain varied by friendship distance: mutual friends showed greater similarity in social brain networks compared with friends-of-friends (β = 0.65, t = 2.03, P = 0.045) and even more remotely connected peers (β = 0.77, t = 2.83, P = 0.006); friends-of-friends did not differ from more distantly connected peers (β = -0.13, t = -0.53, P = 0.6). We report that mutual friends have similar "social brain" networks, adding a neuroanatomic dimension to the adage that "birds of a feather flock together."
Understanding others is a key component of successful social interactions, and declines in social abilities during later life can lead to social isolation and loneliness. We investigated the relationship between different subcomponents of social cognition and loneliness in a large sample of older adults. We tested perspective-taking and mentalizing skills, alongside self-reported loneliness and social functioning. The results revealed that both loneliness and age correlated significantly with older adults' ability to resist egocentric interference when taking others' perspectives. However, mediation models showed that the effect of loneliness on egocentric tendencies was eliminated when age was accounted for. Therefore, loneliness relates to egocentrism only because egocentric tendencies increase with age, and people experience increasing levels of loneliness and feelings of social isolation with increasing age. Mentalizing and interference from others' perspectives were not influenced by loneliness or age.
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Emerging evidence suggests COVID lockdowns have not only increased the social problem of loneliness but widened the ‘loneliness gap’ between the most and least lonely people. Qualitative investigation can reveal why this gap might have increased, for whom, and whether the loneliness gap will remain long term. Using multi‐wave qualitative survey data conducted during Australia’s 2020 lockdown period and beyond, we examine personal experiences of interaction transitioning out of lockdown. We find substantial and uneven impacts of COVID lasting well beyond lockdown. Participants reported heightened loneliness attributable to: physical isolation, health anxieties, ceased activities, reduced connection quality, and poor motivation. COVID also created new interactive difficulties for singles, those with physical and mental disabilities, their carers, and those with low social capital. There was also reported ‘pruning’ of social networks (i.e. reduced bridging, increased bonding social capital), and evidence that increased digital interaction did not substitute for lost physical contact. Younger people also experienced isolating COVID‐induced life disruptions (e.g. travel, university attendance etc). Findings suggest COVID has increased potential long‐term inequalities in loneliness, highlight the post COVID risks faced by vulnerable groups, and suggest caution in advocating digital solutions as a panacea for diminished physical interaction in the post‐pandemic world.
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Loneliness is an unpleasant experience of lacking desired interpersonal relationships. Abundant evidence has clarified the negative outcomes of loneliness, such as anxiety, even suicidal behaviors. However, relatively few is known about the internal buffering elements for loneliness, especially in adolescents. The current research aimed to investigate the relationship between self-compassion and adolescents’ loneliness, as well as the mediating roles of fear of negative evaluation and social anxiety in this relationship. A total of 871 Chinese adolescents completed a set of questionnaires, including the measures of loneliness, self-compassion, social anxiety and the fear of negative evaluation. We tested the proposed serial mediation model and the results suggested that self-compassion was negatively associated with loneliness, and social anxiety served as a mediator in the relationship. Besides, we found that the fear of negative evaluation and social anxiety serially mediated the negative association. Specifically, self-compassionate adolescents reported less fear of negative evaluation, which resulted in decreased social anxiety symptoms. In turn, the decreased social anxiety was linked to reduced feelings of loneliness. The present study sheds lights on the mediating effects of fear of negative evaluation and social anxiety in the relationship between self-compassion and loneliness. The theoretical and practical implications, as well as the limitations of the present study, are discussed.
Although friendships are important throughout the lifespan, they seem to be particularly important during middle childhood and adolescence. Prior to this time, parents command center stage; after this period, heterosexual relationships become the primary concern. By examining friendship as it develops into a significant form of relationship during this period, we hope to shed light on the functional importance of friendship. In particular, we consider three ways that friends contribute to social development and adjustment: (a) the fulfillment of interpersonal needs, (b) the socialization of interpersonal competence, & (c) the provision of natural therapeutic experiences. Our approach is developmental in that we trace the path by which friendship grows to its mature form. It is also comparative in that we consider the relative role of friendship within the child’s broad network of relationships.
Assessed 122 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th graders' perceptions of the social support provided by friends. During individual interviews, Ss were asked about the frequency of emotional support or intimate self-disclosure, tangible support or prosocial behavior, and other types of support provided by a particular friend. Ss were also asked about the frequency of conflicts with the friend and the frequency of supportive interactions and conflicts with a classmate who was only an acquaintance. Factor analyses revealed an increase with grade in the differentiation between the support and conflict dimensions of friendship and acquaintanceship. At all grades, Ss perceived friends as more supportive than acquaintances, but explanations for the lack of support from acquaintances changed with grade. Sixth graders often gave personal attributions (e.g., saying that the acquaintances were selfish or hostile). Eighth graders favored more situational attributions (e.g., saying that they had few supportive interactions with acquaintances because they rarely came in contact with them). The potential value of perceived-support measures in research on the consequences of friendship is discussed. (27 ref)
A number of intervention programs have been developed to teach children the skills necessary for effective interactions with others (see Furman, 1984; Hops, 1982). Some investigators have developed programs to improve the sociometric status of children who are not liked or who are disliked by their peers. Others have designed interventions to increase the rates of peer interaction of children who are isolated from their peers. Although there is considerable controversy concerning which of these approaches is more appropriate, the objective of both is to enhance children’s relationships with their peers.
The distinction between friendship adjustment and acceptance by the peer group was examined. Third- through 5th-grade children (N = 88 1 ) completed sociometric measures of acceptance and friendship, a measure of loneliness, a questionnaire on the features of their very best friendships, and a measure of their friendship satisfaction. Results indicated that many low-accepted children had best friends and were satisfied with these friendships. However, these children's friendships were lower than those of other children on most dimensions of quality. Having a friend, friendship quality, and group acceptance made separate contributions to the prediction of loneliness. Results indicate the utility of the new friendship quality measure and the value of distinguishing children's friendship adjustment from their general peer acceptance.
Popularity and friendship are distinct constructs within the domain of peer relationships, and each is related to children's adjustment. The current study extended earlier research by testing whether the relations of popularity and friendship quality to depressive symptoms are moderated by age and gender. Participants (166 fifth graders, 156 eighth graders) completed rating scales about peers to assess popularity and self-report questionnaires to assess friendship quality and depressive symptoms. Friendship quality and popularity were correlated significantly, but the magnitude of the association was small. Although friendship quality and popularity each made an independent contribution to predicting depressive symptoms, the association between popularity and symptoms of depression was stronger for girls than for boys. Possible explanations for the differing associations for boys and for girls are discussed.
Increased use for the techniques of structural equation modeling have recently appeared in behavioral science journals. These techniques include causal modeling, path diagrams, ordinary least-squares regression analysis, and powerful methods for model analysis such as LISREL. These techniques offer significant advantages, and yet they appear to be misunderstood and misused by many persons. Advantages and problems associated with these techniques are discussed. Criteria are noted that may be used for judging the success of structural equation modeling. Legitimate advances and credulity are examined as reasons for enthusiasm for the techniques of structural equation modeling.
The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship of stable mutual friendship to self-reports of loneliness in preschoolers who had been nominated as rejected or nonrejected by their peers. Ninety-four 4- and 5-year-olds were classified into five peer status groups: controversial, neglected, average, popular, and rejected. In addition, the children were classified as having a stable mutual friendship, an unstable mutual friendship, or without mutual friends. Children in the rejected group rated themselves as lonelier than their neglected, popular, and average peers. However, rejected children who had a stable mutual friendship reported levels of loneliness that were similar to those of their nonrejected peers and less loneliness than those rejected children who lacked stable friendship. Loneliness in preschoolers is discussed in terms of the quality of their friendships and peer experience as well as their desire to be sociable.