Loneliness in childhood: toward the next generation of assessment and research

Adv Child Dev Behav. 2012;42:1-39. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-394388-0.00001-0.


Loneliness is a sad, even painful emotional experience that is thought to result from deficiencies in the quantity or quality of one's social relationships. Assessments of loneliness have evolved to typically include diverse item content that assesses the causes of loneliness as well as the emotional experience of loneliness itself. This embedding of hypothesized causes in the assessment of loneliness creates pervasive problems in drawing valid conclusions from empirical research on loneliness. In this chapter, we review major historical and contemporary perspectives on loneliness and then describe how widely used assessments have led to the development of a literature in which key questions about the causes of loneliness, the influence of gender on the experience of loneliness, and the developmental course of loneliness remain unanswered. We argue for the use of loneliness assessments that focus purely on the emotional experience of loneliness without including hypothesized causes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Peer Group
  • Personality Assessment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Research
  • Self Concept
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Identification