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Loneliness - Definition And Theory

age developmental social social isolation condition emotional

Loneliness is an affective emotional condition experienced when a person feels apart from familiar social supports. It is a psychosocial condition that is differentially experienced within different cultures. Most developments in this condition have been observed in the United States and Europe. Among those not in institutions, studies show that less than 20 percent of older persons experience loneliness. There is some evidence to suggest that loneliness increases with increasing totality of institutionalization. Over the life span, loneliness seems to vary curvilinearily by age. It is highest among adolescents, declines into late middle age, then increases again with advancing older age.

Theoretical conceptualizations of loneliness can be categorized as: 1) the social needs approach, with foundations in the social developmental approaches and the social support perspectives; 2) the behavioral-personality approach; and 3) the cognitive processes approach. Common to these approaches are three points. Loneliness is: 1) a subjective emotional experience that may be unrelated to actual social isolation, that is, aloneness; 2) an aversive psychological condition; and 3) caused by some form of social relationship deficit.

Measurement instruments to assess loneliness include scales developed by Russell, Peplau, and Cutrona (1980), van Tilburg and de Jong Gierveld (1999), and Vincenzi and Grabosky (1989).

The loneliness related to emotional isolation results from the absence of a person with whom one is emotionally connected. The loneliness experienced is a psychological state characterized by feelings of loss, distress, separation, and isolation. Loneliness resulting from social isolation is related to a person's perceived isolation from those around him or her. The emotional condition of loneliness in this regard is influenced by a deficit in the quantity of relationships, and/or the lack of relatedness to the social environment.

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