Reflective Monitoring in Lonely Adolescents

By Carr, Martha; Schellenbach, Cynthia | Adolescence, Fall 1993 | Go to article overview

Reflective Monitoring in Lonely Adolescents

Carr, Martha, Schellenbach, Cynthia, Adolescence


Loneliness is prevalent among adolescents (Brennan & Anslander, 1979), and is related to a number of affective and cognition problems (Jones, Freeman, & Goswich, 1981). Loneliness is often a product of situational change (such as divorce or loss of spouse), or transitional change; for example, loneliness may be experienced as mood swings (Young, 1982). On the other hand, as a result of long-standing behavioral and affective disorders, loneliness may become chronic, lasting two years or more. Whereas situational and transient loneliness are generally the products of environmental events, chronic loneliness is thought to be related to internal factors such as dysfunctional cognitions and affective states which interact with the environment (Young, 1982). Likewise, chronic loneliness in some individuals may stem from personality characteristics, such as shyness (Zimbardo, 1977). Chronic loneliness in adolescents is primarily a "dysfunction of interpersonal relationships" (Goswick & Jones, 1982, p. 374), and it affects physical health (Lynch, 1976) and mental health (Wenz, 1977; Nerviana & Gross, 1976).

Loneliness may be perpetuated by, and promote, deficient social support systems. For example, college-age adolescents affected by loneliness tend to have poor social skills (Gerson & Perlman, 1979), as well as poor coping skills (Peplau & Perlman, 1979). From a life-span perspective, lonely adolescents' immature or poor social skills may be mirrored in later dysfunctional adult relationships (Russell, Peplau, & Cutrona (1980); Goswick & Jones, 1982). Nevertheless, despite its pervasiveness, little research has addressed the factors that promote loneliness (Jones et al., 1981), particularly among adolescents.

Loneliness has been seen as having three interacting components: an unpleasant and distressful affective experience, a subjective-cognitive experience, and a deficiency in social relationships (Peplau & Perlman, 1982). Although considerable literature is available on loneliness as a cognitive or affective experience, systematic research on its multiple interacting components has remained unintegrated (Jones, Freeman, & Goswick, 1981). The purpose of this paper is to present a model of chronic loneliness which describes interrelationships among the three components. This model does not account for all chronic loneliness, such as experienced by shy persons. Instead, the goal is to explain how chronic loneliness may develop in some persons who are unable to adequately reflect on, and thus learn from, their social interactions. First, a rationale behind the importance of reflective monitoring to the development of chronic loneliness is presented. The role of reflective monitoring is then highlighted in the development and perpetuation of chronic loneliness.(1) Finally, some of the familial and intraindividual precursors to a monitoring deficit are presented.

The Role of a Reflective Monitoring Deficit in Chronic Loneliness

It is posited here that monitoring the environment for social cues, as are other cognitive skills, is important to social skill development. To a certain extent we all monitor the environment for cues to guide social behavior. According to Snyder (1979), high self-monitoring individuals react to cues from the environment, and their behavior is based on the social demands of the situation, while low self-monitoring individuals tend not to react to environmental cues. Therefore, behavior is primarily the expression of internal states such as affect and cognition. For instance, a high self-monitoring person will choose friends on the basis of compatibility as opposed to more superficial criteria such as social desirability (Snyder Berscheid, & Glick 1983)). The preference for internal or external cues is not generally detrimental.

The tendency toward low self-monitoring, however, may become detrimental when it precludes the understanding that one must, to some extent, refer to the environment for guidance. …

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