Loneliness is associated with a variety of detrimental psychological and physiological outcomes. However, the mechanisms of the effects of loneliness on these psychological (e.g., distress) and biological measures of stress (e.g., stress hormones such as cortisol) are less understood, as are specific protective traits that might buffer against negative effects of loneliness. The purpose of this study was to examine in college students (N = 93) the mediating role of negative social evaluation (NSE) in these pathways, as well as the protective effects of dispositional mindfulness. In this prospective experience-sampling study, participants completed a baseline assessment of loneliness and trait mindfulness, repeated brief assessments of NSE and distress over five weeks, and a final lab visit to collect a hair cortisol sample. We expected that there would be an indirect effect such that loneliness impacts psychological and physiological stress through NSE. Additionally, we anticipated that this indirect effect would be moderated by trait mindfulness. Specifically, we expected that the indirect effect of loneliness on distress and cortisol would be weakened for individuals with high levels of trait mindfulness. As predicted, results indicated a conditional indirect effect of loneliness on psychological stress, such that at low levels of mindfulness, the relationship between loneliness and psychological stress was negative (95% CI[.039, .322]). Conversely, at moderate and high levels of mindfulness, the relationship between loneliness and psychological stress was not significant (95% CI [-.016, .171] and [-.092, .117], respectively). In the preliminary batch of hair samples (N = 40), loneliness did not predict cortisol; however, assays are ongoing. These findings advance our understanding of how loneliness may have deleterious downstream effects on psychological and biological aspects of stress, and also suggest the possibility that trait mindfulness may buffer against these processes.
Hannah Reas– Doctoral Student, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, Washington
Christina Quach– Student, Seattle Pacific University
Erin Verdi– Student, Seattle Pacific University
Thane Erickson– Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, Washington