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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Alone but not lonely? distinct types, antecedents, and correlates of older and younger adults' daily life solitude experiences in two cultural contexts Lay, Jennifer Christina


Solitude (the absence of social interaction, whether in-person or electronic) is a ubiquitous yet understudied experience, often confused with loneliness, but sometimes sought out in daily life. This research program aimed to better understand the negative and positive aspects of solitude, drawing on data from three samples: 50 university students in Vancouver, 100 community-dwelling adults aged 50+ in Vancouver (including 51% East Asian immigrants), and 56 community-dwelling adults aged 50+ in Hong Kong. Participants completed approximately 30 repeated daily life assessments over 10 days on their current thoughts, affect, location, activities, social situation, and desire for solitude. Study 1 used latent profile analysis to identify distinct types of solitude experiences from the everyday thought-affect patterns of younger and middle-aged/older adults in Vancouver, and examined for whom and under what circumstances solitude may have positive or negative connotations. Two distinct types of solitude experiences were identified. Overall desire for solitude and social self-efficacy were associated with positive solitude experiences, and self-rumination and self-reflection with negative solitude experiences. Study 2 specifically examined solitude desire and its location and affective correlates among middle-aged and older adults living in Vancouver. At most occasions, solitude happened by individuals’ own choosing. Older adults were more likely to go to locations that matched their desired social context, and solitude-seeking had less negative affective associations for them as compared to middle-aged adults. East/Southeast Asian participants reported more loneliness than European/North American participants. Study 3 combined two data sets, from Vancouver and Hong Kong, to disentangle the roles of culture, immigration, and acculturation on solitude-loneliness associations among adults aged 50+. Participants high in acculturation to the local (host) culture or who desired solitude at that moment showed no association between being in solitude and feeling lonely. Taken together, these studies show that solitude and loneliness are distinct constructs with different predictors, correlates, and consequences. This research identified key individual difference, life phase, and social contextual factors associated with seeking solitude and thriving during solitude.

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