Loneliness, Social Anxiety, and Depressive Symptoms in Adolescence: Examining Their Distinctiveness Through Factor Analysis
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Adolescents face multiple changes in their social environment, which makes them more vulnerable to developing internalizing problems with strong interpersonal components, such as feelings of loneliness, social anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Given the widespread tacit assumption that these internalizing problems represent distinct concepts, research on these internalizing problems has evolved relatively independently. However, this assumption of distinctiveness has not often been empirically tested, especially not in adolescence. In order to check whether it is valid to examine loneliness, social anxiety, and depressive symptoms independently, the current study empirically tested whether these internalizing problems reflect a single latent construct or whether they are better represented by three distinct latent constructs.
Three large samples of Flemish adolescents were used (i.e., N= 549, Mage = 14.82 in Sample 1; N= 1,116, Mage = 13.79, in Sample 2, and N= 1,423, Mage = 13.58 in Sample 3) in which adolescents filled out well-established and validated self-report questionnaires tapping into the three types of internalizing problems. Confirmatory factor analysis was conducted in each sample separately. Adolescents filled out well-established and validated self-report questionnaires.
The results contribute to the literature on the co-occurrence of loneliness, social anxiety, and depressive symptoms by showing that these internalizing problems can be best represented as interrelated, but distinguishable constructs.
Based on our findings, examining loneliness, social anxiety, and depressive symptoms in separate research lines seems justified. Statistical techniques examining co-development over time for these internalizing problems can be used with confidence in future research.
KeywordsLoneliness Social anxiety Depressive symptoms Adolescence Confirmatory factor analysis
This study was funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) (Grant number: G.0565.15N).
S.D.: Executed the study and wrote the paper. P.B.: Designed the study and collaborated in the editing of the manuscript. M.B.: Designed the study, collected the data, and collaborated in the editing of the final manuscript. H.C.: Designed the study and collaborated in the editing of the manuscript. W.V.: Designed the study, supervised the methodological and statistical aspects of the study, and collaborated in the editing of the manuscript. K.V.: Designed the study and collaborated in the editing of the manuscript. K.V.: Designed the study and collaborated in the editing of the manuscript. L.G.: Designed the study and collaborated in the writing of the study.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the KU Leuven and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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