Loneliness, self-esteem, anxiety and depressive symptoms across adolescence

Elody Hutten, E.M.M. Jongen, S. Smeekens, P. Verboon, Y. van den Berg, Pouwels L., T. Cillissen

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


Loneliness represents a subjective state of distress due to a discrepancy between perceived and actual relationships. The present study employed a person-centered approach to investigate how feelings of loneliness emerge in distinct developmental trajectories from middle childhood to young adulthood. We also examined whether certain childhood risk factors could predispose individuals to trajectory membership and whether trajectory membership would lead to increases in certain mental health outcomes.
Participants were children (N between 71-116) from the Nijmegen Longitudinal Study on Infant and Child Development. Loneliness was measured at age 9 (LSDQ), age 13 (LACA), age 16 (LACA), and age 21 (UCLA). Childhood predictors (measured at age 5) included SES, parent-child attachment (Attachment Story Completion Task), internalizing and externalizing symptoms (CBCL/4-18), social competence (TOM test), and self-esteem (Puppet Interview). Mental health outcomes (SCL-90) and self-esteem (Rosenberg) were assessed at age 21. Three distinct trajectories of loneliness were identified from age 9 to 21: low stable (56%), decliners (18%) and increasers (26%). Significant childhood predictors of these trajectories were internalizing symptoms and self-esteem, with decliners (relatively high on loneliness in childhood and early adolescence followed by a decline) scoring higher on internalizing symptoms and lower on self-esteem than low stable and increasers. Furthermore, the three trajectory classes were differentially related to mental health outcomes, with decliners and increasers scoring significantly lower on self-esteem and higher on depression, anxiety, and inadequacy of thinking than low stable. In addition, increasers scored higher on interpersonal sensitivity and somatic symptoms than decreasers and low stable.
The current study confirms that the developmental course of loneliness is heterogeneous. Childhood factors assessed at age 5 can predict distinct developmental trajectories of loneliness. Finally, our findings suggest that loneliness during childhood may have longterm mental health effects, even when it has reduced at the time of young adulthood.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Event19th European Conference on Developmental Psychology - Athens, Greece
Duration: 29 Aug 20191 Sept 2019
Conference number: 19


Conference19th European Conference on Developmental Psychology
Abbreviated titleECDP 2019


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