ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2013, Vol. 45 ›› Issue (2): 179-192.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2013.00179

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Developmental Trajectories of Loneliness During Middle and Late Childhood: A Latent Growth Curve Analysis

LIU Junsheng;ZHOU Ying;LI Dan   

  1. (1 Department of Psychology, Shanghai Normal University, Shanghai 200234, China) (2 Department of Educational Research, China Executive Leadership Academy. Pudong, Shanghai 201204, China)
  • Received:2012-04-16 Published:2013-02-28 Online:2013-02-28
  • Contact: LI Dan

Abstract: Loneliness is typically defined as the subjective experience of dissatisfaction with one’s social and relational life. Children as young as preschool-age can reliability report feelings of loneliness. The experience of loneliness is associated with a wide range of socio-emotional difficulties from early childhood to adolescence. Most previous research has focused on contributing factors and mechanisms that may underlie the development of loneliness. However, much less is known about the developmental trajectories of loneliness, particularly during middle childhood. It has been postulated that loneliness arises as a result of unmet social needs (Social needs theory). From a cognitive perspective, loneliness is thought to be influenced primarily by subjective perceptions of one’s personal relationships. However, children’s social needs and cognitive capabilities do not remain static across development. Accordingly, the purpose of the present study was to examine the developmental trajectories of loneliness across middle childhood. Participants were 884 primary school students, who were followed up for three years from grade two to grade five. Assessments of children’s loneliness and peer acceptance were obtained from both self-reports and peer assessments at four time points. Latent growth modeling was used to examine: (1) initial levels and change in loneliness over time; and (2) the prediction of both initial levels and growth in loneliness from child gender and peer acceptance. Among the results, children’s loneliness decreased in a non-linear trajectory from grade 2 (Mean age = 8.5years, SD=3.06 months) to grade 5. As well, although boys had higher initial levels of loneliness than girls, there was no gender difference in the change of loneliness over time. Finally, results from latent growth curve modeling indicated that peer acceptance as a time-variant variable influenced children’s feeling of loneliness. Peer acceptance at given testing point could reduce children’s feeling of loneliness at that time. Our findings suggest that developmental trajectories of loneliness are influenced by changes in the forms and functions of social contacts, activities, and relationships at different developmental stages. A better understanding of the causes and consequences of change in loneliness across the critical age period of middle childhood can help to ameliorate intervention programs designed to assist lonely children.

Key words: loneliness, developmental trajectories, latent growth modeling, gender difference, peer acceptance