ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2024, Vol. 32 ›› Issue (2): 330-341.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2024.00330

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Understanding the adjustment functions of solitude from a lifespan development perspective: A five-round comparison of benefits and costs

HAIDABIEKE Aersheng1, ZHOU Tong2, YU Jie1, WANG Jiyueyi1, CHEN Fei3, DING Xuechen1,4()   

  1. 1School of Psychology, Shanghai Normal University, Shanghai 200234, China
    2School of Psychology and Cognitive Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China
    3Zhangjiang Hi-tech Experimental Primary School, Pudong New District, Shanghai 201203, China
    4Lab for Educational Big Data and Policymaking, Ministry of Education, Shanghai 200234, China
  • Received:2023-03-02 Online:2024-02-15 Published:2023-11-23
  • Contact: DING Xuechen


In the past, researchers have focused most solely on the significance of social interaction and interpersonal relationships for individual development, and relatively less is known about the impact of solitude. In fact, solitude and social interaction are equally prevalent throughout a person’s life, and both are equally important needs that can be used to resolve conflicts and reduce pathology. In fact, every organism needs to seek a balance between intimacy and solitude.

Solitude is an open state in which individuals have noncommunication with others in either real or virtual environment. It is as common throughout life and will bring different effects at different stages of individual development. Previous studies have focused on the adjustment functions of solitude, but have taken different views on it, either positive or negative. Given the current controversy surrounding the adaptive functions of solitude, this study adopted key variables such as psychological adaptation and social adaptation to explore the battle between the benefits (positive impact) and costs (negative impact) of solitude in different age stages of an individual’s life from the lifespan perspective. This approach allows us to have a better understanding of the dynamic changes and development of solitude, as well as an expansion of Coplan, Ooi, et al.’s (2019) theoretical model of the developmental time effect of solitude. In addition, it provides a more comprehensive explanation of the importance of solitude for individuals’ adaptation.

By combing the relevant research results of solitude, this study advances a comparison model of the benefits and costs of solitude from a lifespan perspective and finds that solitude is a double-edged sword, which has both benefits and costs for individual development and shows certain characteristics and different adaptive values from childhood to late adulthood. As children engage in solitary play during their early years, adolescents explore themselves and have fun in solitude, while adults work and rest in their early adulthood, relax and reflect during middle adulthood, and solve problems and regulate emotions during late adulthood.

Specifically, in childhood, children’s solitary play is a bridge to develop their social interaction function, but at the same time, it directly leads to miss out the opportunity to interact with peers, and the cost of solitude comes to the forefront. In adolescence, although individuals have greater social autonomy, they are faced with increased social expectations and norms. At this time, solitude is prone to a variety of internalizing problems and peer pressure, and the cost of solitude reaches its peak. In early adulthood, self-determined solitude is conducive to self-acceptance and personal growth. The benefits of solitude begin to take hold, but individuals may also have some negative emotions due to inconsistent motivation and attitude. In the middle adulthood, with the change of individual identity, there is an enhanced need for solitude and autonomous motivation, but they also face different social and emotional gains and losses. At this time, the benefits and costs of solitude are difficult to judge. In late adulthood, individuals have a high degree of autonomy and begin to enjoy solitude. However, at this stage, the elderly may face social isolation, which will bring great threats to individual cognition, emotion, and life, and the cost of solitude will rise again.

To further develop our understanding of solitude, future studies could: 1) Integrate the multi-dimensional and dynamic development of solitude from a personal-oriented perspective. 2) Collect more cross-sectional and longitudinal data from lifespan perspective. 3) Interpret the development process of solitude based on cultural background. 4) Examine the impact of contemporary digital technology on individual experience of solitude. 5) Explore the cognitive neural mechanisms of solitude. 6) Consider the practical implications of solitude at different developmental stages.

Key words: solitude, lifespan development perspective, adjustment function, benefit, cost

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