Embracing me-time: Motivation for solitude during transition to college

Abstract

The present research examined the role of university students’ motivation for spending time alone in their adjustment to college life, as well as the parenting correlates of students’ healthy motivation for solitude. Two studies were conducted on first-year college students in the United States (n = 147) and Canada (n = 223). In Study 1, data was collected at three different time points, separated by two-week intervals. In Study 2, data was collected at two different time points, separated by a month. The results revealed that, for those who reported perceiving lower social belonging, approaching solitary time for autonomous reasons was linked to greater self-esteem (Study 1), and greater sense of relatedness to others and lower loneliness (Study 2). These findings suggest that endorsing a healthy motivation for solitude is not necessarily indicative of social ill-being. Additionally, students’ autonomous motivation for spending time alone was associated with having parents that are autonomy supportive and that promote a sense of independence.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We performed exploratory factor analyses on all the items assessing perceptions of parents in Study 1. For both set of items about mother and father, we identified two items from the autonomy support measures that loaded onto the factor of the promotion of independence measures. Those two were: “my mother/father, whenever possible, allows me to choose what to do” and “my mother/father allows me to decide things for myself”. We also identified three other items that loaded onto a separate factor, including “my mother/father tries to tell me how to run my life”, “my mother/father insists upon my doing things his/her way”, and “my mother/father isn’t very sensitive to many of my needs”. As such, to be the most conservative with our revised measure for autonomy support, we removed all those five items and used only the four items that pertain to parents’ willingness to listen to children’s point of view and helping children make informed decisions (see “Appendix 1”). Those four items yielded satisfactory internal consistency for both scales for mother (α = 0.78) and father (α = 0.77) (see Tables 5, 6).

  2. 2.

    As seen in Table 4, the correlations between Time 1 and Time 2 measures of loneliness, depression, self-esteem, relatedness ranged between 0.50 and 0.70, and the correlations between Time 2 and Time 3 measures of those outcomes ranged between 0.60 and 0.75. These high correlations suggested that there is little change over time, which would make it difficult for the lagged models to converge.

  3. 3.

    While we acknowledge that such a large attrition rate is normally of concern, in the present study we experienced this issue due to a recruitment error, not necessarily because of the quality of the data or participants. Specifically, participants were supposed to receive a set amount of extra credit once they completed T1 and the remaining credit after they completed T2. However, due to an administrative error, participants mistakenly received the full compensation after completing T1. Following recommendations of the department’s SONA administrator and university ethics board, we were unable to take away the credit that was supposed to be reserved for T2, and so the incentive to actually complete T2 was relatively low.

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Appendices

Appendix 1

Please answer the following questions about your mother and your father. If you do not have any contact with one of your parents (for example, your father), but there is another adult of the same gender living with your house (for example, a stepfather) then please answer the questions about that other adult.

If you have no contact with one of your parents, and there is not another adult of that same gender with whom you live, then leave the questions about that parent blank.

Response scale:

1 = not at all true; –; 7—VERY TRUE.

Promotion of independence (Fousiani et al. 2014)

My mother/my father

  1. 1.

    thinks it’s important that I can solve problems without him/her

  2. 2.

    thinks it’s important for me to learn to stand on my own legs

  3. 3.

    wants me to make decisions on my own

  4. 4.

    thinks it’s important that I am independent

  5. 5.

    wants me to make choices on my own

  6. 6.

    thinks I should take care of my own business

Autonomy support (Grolnick et al. 1991)

My mother/my father

  1. 1.

    seems to know how I feel about things*

  2. 2.

    tries to tell me how to run my life

  3. 3.

    whenever possible, allows me to choose what to do

  4. 4.

    listens to my opinion or perspective when I’ve got a problem*

  5. 5.

    allows me to decide things for myself

  6. 6.

    insists upon my doing things her way

  7. 7.

    is usually willing to consider things from my point of view*

  8. 8.

    helps me to choose my own direction*

  9. 9.

    isn’t very sensitive to many of my needs

Appendix 2

Autonomous motivation for spending time alone.

Think of times when you are by yourself. Those are times when you do not interact with anyone in person or virtually. You might be by yourself either because you want or choose to be by yourself, or because you just happen to be by yourself without intending to, or because you have to or feel like you should stay by yourself. Different people spend time by themselves for different reasons. Please indicate the extent to which each of the following reasons applies to you and all the instances when you are by yourself in general. Please choose 1 if the reason does not apply to you at all and 7 if the reason applies to you very much.

Response scale: 1 = this does not apply to me at all; 4 = this somewhat applies to me; 7 = this applies to me very much

  1. 1.

    Because I simply enjoy being with myself (SRQ1)

  2. 2.

    For the pleasure of being with myself (SRQ2)

  3. 3.

    Because having time to myself is important and beneficial to me (SRQ3)

  4. 4.

    Because I really value having time to myself (SRQ4)

  5. 5.

    Because I would feel bad if I didn’t do it (SRQ5)

  6. 6.

    Because I feel that is what everyone else does so I should too (SRQ6)

  7. 7.

    Because of some external circumstances that make me (SRQ7)

  8. 8.

    I would get in trouble with others if I didn’t (SRQ8)

INTRINSIC MOTIVATION::

SRQ1, SRQ2

IDENTIFIED REGULATION::

SRQ3, SRQ4

INTROJECTED REGULATION::

SRQ5, SRQ6

EXTERNAL REGULATION::

SRQ7, SQR8

$${\text{Relative autonomy index }}={\text{ INTRINSIC}} ^{\ast} {\text{2 }}+{\text{ IDENTIFIED}}*{\text{1 }} - {\text{ INTROJECTED}}*{\text{1 }} - {\text{ EXTERNAL}}^{\ast} {\text{2}}$$

Check scale correlation to see if simplex pattern of correlations shows up (Deci and Ryan 1985; Otis et al. 2005).

  • Intrinsic motivation correlates positively and more strongly with identified regulation, less with introjected and external regulations

  • External regulation correlates positively and more strongly with introjected regulation, less with identified regulation and intrinsic motivation

  • External regulation shows the strongest negative correlation with intrinsic motivation and identified regulation

  • Introjected regulation shows moderate negative correlation or no correlation with intrinsic motivation and identified regulation

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Nguyen, T.T., Werner, K.M. & Soenens, B. Embracing me-time: Motivation for solitude during transition to college. Motiv Emot 43, 571–591 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-019-09759-9

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Keywords

  • Well-being
  • Autonomous motivation
  • Solitude
  • Loneliness
  • Self-determination theory