Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 41, Issue 7, pp 1067–1081 | Cite as

Low Self-Esteem as a Risk Factor for Loneliness in Adolescence: Perceived - but not Actual - Social Acceptance as an Underlying Mechanism

  • Janne VanhalstEmail author
  • Koen Luyckx
  • Ron H. J. Scholte
  • Rutger C. M. E. Engels
  • Luc Goossens


Low self-esteem has been shown to relate to concurrent and later feelings of loneliness in adolescence. However, it remains unclear why low self-esteem puts adolescents at risk for experiencing loneliness. Further, longitudinal research on the direction of effects between loneliness and self-esteem is virtually non-existent. The present study aims to fill these gaps in the literature. First, the direction of effects between loneliness and self-esteem was investigated in two independent longitudinal studies: a five-wave study sampling Dutch adolescents (M age = 15.22 years at T1; 47 % female; N = 428) and a three-wave study sampling Belgian adolescents (M age = 14.95 years at T1; 63 % female; N = 882). Second, the underlying role of social acceptance was investigated in the latter sample by applying a multi-method approach that included actual (i.e., peer-reported) and perceived (i.e., self-reported) social acceptance. Results indicated that self-esteem and loneliness influenced one another in a reciprocal manner. Furthermore, the dominant path from self-esteem to loneliness was partially mediated by perceived—but not actual—social acceptance. The importance of distinguishing actual from perceived social acceptance is discussed, and suggestions for future research are outlined.


Loneliness Self-esteem Social acceptance Adolescence 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janne Vanhalst
    • 1
    Email author
  • Koen Luyckx
    • 1
  • Ron H. J. Scholte
    • 2
  • Rutger C. M. E. Engels
    • 2
  • Luc Goossens
    • 1
  1. 1.KU Leuven - University of Leuven, Department of School Psychology and Child and Adolescent DevelopmentLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.Radboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands

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