The developmental course of loneliness in adolescence: Implications for mental health, educational attainment and psychosocial functioning

Timothy Matthews, Pamela Qualter, Bridget Bryan, Avshalom Caspi, Andrea Danese, Terrie E. Moffitt, Candice Odgers, Lily Strange, Louise Arseneault

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Abstract

The present study examined patterns of stability and change in loneliness across adolescence. Data were drawn from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, a UK population-representative cohort of 2,232 individuals born in 1994 and 1995. Loneliness was assessed when participants were aged 12 and 18. Loneliness showed modest stability across these ages (r = .25). Behavioural genetic modelling indicated that stability in loneliness was explained largely by genetic influences (66%), while change was explained by non-shared environmental effects (58%). Individuals who reported loneliness at both ages were broadly similar to individuals who only reported it at age 18, with both groups at elevated risk of mental health problems, physical health risk behaviours, and education and employment difficulties. Individuals who were lonely only at age 12 generally fared better; however, they were still more likely to finish school with lower qualifications. Positive family influences in childhood predicted reduced risk of loneliness at age 12, while negative peer experiences increased the risk. Together, the findings show that while early adolescent loneliness does not appear to exert a cumulative burden when it persists, it is nonetheless a risk for a range of concomitant impairments, some of which can endure.
Original languageEnglish
JournalDevelopment and psychopathology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 22 Nov 2021

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