New York: Interpreting social inclusions and exclusions in a self-defeating way could be the main reason why chronically-lonely teens stay lonely, experts say.
According to researchers, they consider any social invitation as "It's not that I'm worthy, I just got lucky". And when not included in a gathering of peers, the chronically-lonely teens attribute it to some personal flaw.
"Chronically lonely adolescents seem to interpret social inclusion and exclusion situations in a self-defeating way," said first author Janne Vanhalst of University of Leuven in Belgium.
The study investigated whether the interpretations and emotions triggered when adolescents were included and excluded by peers differed between chronically-lonely adolescents and adolescents with a more positive social history.
The researchers charted individual trajectories of loneliness based on four annual questionnaires of 730 adolescents in Belgium.
It focused in ages 15 to 18, when data collection began, because this developmental period is characterised by many changes in social expectations, roles and relationships, the researchers explained.
They found that most adolescents did not experience high levels of loneliness or if they did it was not long-lasting, but they also found a small subgroup of adolescents felt lonely year after year.
These chronically-lonely individuals may respond to social situations in ways that perpetuate rather than reduce their loneliness, the researchers added.
The researchers found that chronically-lonely adolescents reported experiencing more negative emotions, including sadness, disappointment, anger, jealousy, offense, anxiety and insecurity, in response to social exclusion, and were more likely to attribute social exclusion to their own personal characteristics.
These findings show that such adolescents respond to social situations in ways that may perpetuate rather than help relieve their feelings of loneliness.
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.