Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Perceived Causes of Loneliness: A Cross-Cultural Comparison

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Perceived Causes of Loneliness: A Cross-Cultural Comparison

Article excerpt

Loneliness is a pervasive social problem which is experienced universally, regardless of one's race, gender, age or cultural background. This study examined the influences of cultural background on the perceptions of loneliness antecedents. In the present study, 711 Canadians, 568 Turks, and 398 Argentinians answered an 82-item questionnaire composed of five subscales, namely: Personal inadequacies, Developmental deficits, Unfulfilling intimate relationships, Relocation/significant separation, and Social Marginality. Participants were asked to endorse those items which, in their opinion, constituted the causes of their loneliness. Results revealed significant differences among the three cultures. Canadians had the highest mean scores on all subscales, while the Turkish participants had the lowest mean scores on Personal inadequacies and Developmental deficits. Gender differences also were examined within, and between, cultures.

Current research points out the pervasiveness of loneliness and its debilitating effects (Jones, Rose, & Russell, 1990; Rokach & Brock, 1997). As Sadler (1987) observed "many of us in today's world are living on the verge of a lonely life. A significant number of us have experienced the ravages of loneliness; some of us have become debilitated, depressed and demoralized by it" (p. 184). Loneliness has been linked to such maladies as depression, suicide, hostility, alcoholism, poor self-concept and psychosomatic illnesses (McWhirter, 1990) and although most research has been conducted in North America, it is clear that the negative implications of loneliness are felt regardless of the culture in which it occurs.

Largely, loneliness research has tended to focus on individual factors, i.e. on either personality factors or lack of social contacts (Jylha & Jokela, 1990). However, if the premise that loneliness is expressive of the individual's relationship to the community is accepted, then it is conceivable that the difference amongst cultures and the ways people's social relations are organized within them will result in cross-cultural variations in the ways people perceive, experience and cope with loneliness. Wilson, Sibanda, Sibanda and Wilson (1989) asserted that little crosscultural research on loneliness exists (see also Triandis, 1996). Ginter, Glauser and Richmond (1994) further pointed out the importance of, and urgent need for, crosscultural research.

Segall, Lonner and Berry (1998) reviewed the interplay between psychology and culture, and asserted that "culture and all that it implies with respect to human development, thought and behavior should be central, not peripheral in psychological theory and research" (p. 1108). Medora, Woodward and Larson (1987) maintained that "among the important factors affecting the individual's experience of loneliness are the culture and the family in which he/she develops" (p. 205). Consequently, the difference of social tapestry, interpersonal interactions, and the support networks which are available to individuals in various cultures and countries are, naturally, bound to affect the manner in which they experience loneliness. According to Triandis (1996), contemporary psychology is based on research conducted in the Western Hemisphere (e.g., Europe, North America, and Australia) even though approximately 70% of the world's population lives in non-Western regions. He concluded that "if psychology is to become a universal discipline it will need both theories and data from the majority of humans" (p. 407). The present study focused on adults in three diverse populations: the North American one (as exemplified in this case by the Canadian participants), the Turkish, and the Argentinian cultures. These cultures differ geographically, religiously, economically, and socially.

THE NORTH AMERICAN CULTURE

It has been frequently pointed out (Schneider, 1998; Sermat, 1980) that loneliness is prevalent in, and may even be encouraged by, the North American culture. …

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