Affinity for Aloneness and Shyness in Childhood and Adolescence: Differential Longitudinal Associations with Socio-emotional Adjustment
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Affinity for aloneness (AFA), a tendency to prefer to spend more time alone rather than with others, is assumed to be driven by low social interest rather than by social fears. This is unlike shyness, which is underpinned by a conflict between high social interest and pervasive social apprehension and weariness. Despite the marked motivational differences between these two subtypes of social withdrawal and their potential differential impact on socio-emotional adjustment in childhood and adolescence, AFA is empirically neglected compared to shyness. Shyness was extensively studied and repeatedly linked to a host of negative socio-emotional correlates such as depression, lower social skills, lower self-esteem and peer maltreatment. However, little is known about the socio-emotional impact of AFA on children and adolescents, particularly longitudinally. Despite clear evidence, AFA was suspected as maladaptive due to its affiliation with social withdrawal, a wide umbrella term that has been tied to internalizing problem and peer difficulties. The generalization of findings regarding social withdrawal as a whole to AFA may lead to a pathologization of a normative behavior, increase instances of unnecessary intervention, and inadvertently negatively impact otherwise intact socio-emotional development of children and adolescents. The scarce available knowledge about AFA stems from several persisting gaps in the literature. First, there is insufficient systematic differentiation among subtypes of social withdrawal, and a lack of deliberate simultaneous measurement of specific constructs such as shyness and AFA. Second, there are very few longitudinal studies of both shyness and AFA across childhood and adolescence. Third, there is a lack of contextual investigation of AFA compared to shyness in common life setting in which children tend to spend much of their time, such as organized sports activities. My doctoral dissertation specifically addressed all of the aforementioned gaps in the literature. Results of Study 1, a longitudinal study spanning from Grade 3 to Grade 5, indicated that only shyness, but not AFA, was significantly related to lower social skills and greater peer victimization across time. Study 2 utilized Latent Class Analysis and results indicated that adolescents in Grades 11 and 12 who were high on AFA and low on shyness did not differ from adolescents low on both AFA and shyness (a non-withdrawn group) on measures of socio-emotional adjustment. In Study 3, results of Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) indicated that only shyness, but not AFA, was related to lower positive activity outcomes through lower psychological engagement in the activity. In aggregate, the findings of the present doctoral studies advance the literature on AFA in meaningful ways. Most notably, AFA emerged as a largely benign form of social withdrawal across middle childhood and adolescence. Moreover, Study 2, which appears to be the first person-centered investigation of AFA in adolescence using Latent Class Analysis, provided novel evidence that AFA and shyness are distinct constructs with unique implication for socio-emotional adjustment. These findings carry applied implication for educators and parents seeking to facilitate optimal developmental contexts for children with an AFA.