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Are biased interpretations of ambiguous social and non-social situations a precursor, consequence or maintenance factor of youth loneliness?

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Original languageEnglish
Article number103829
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
PublishedMay 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This study was funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council ( ES/T00004X/1 ). Publisher Copyright: © 2021 Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

King's Authors


Loneliness is common in youth, with suggestions that these negative emotions confer vulnerability for anxiety and depression. Here, we investigated for the first time whether, consistent with psychological models of loneliness, biased interpretations of social situations could prospectively predict loneliness in youth. 104 young people completed measures of loneliness and interpretations of ambiguous social and non-social (bodily or health-related) situations at three time-points with intervals of three months between each. As government-imposed social distancing measures (to control the COVID-19 outbreak) occurred between Times 2 and 3 (but not between Times 1 and 2), this enabled us to assess whether restricted social activity could provoke greater predictive power of biased interpretational styles on loneliness. Using cross-lagged panel models, we showed that after estimating paths representing within-time across-variable (“concurrent”) paths and across-time within-variable (“stability”) paths, there were no significant cross-lag ‘causal’ paths between earlier interpretational style and later loneliness. Between Time 2 and 3, we demonstrated a significant cross-lag ‘consequential’ path between earlier loneliness and later threatening interpretations of social situations, but this became non-significant after controlling for concurrent anxiety and depression. Biased interpretational style may reflect a concurrent maintenance factor of youth loneliness.

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