Social inhibition, sense of belonging and vulnerability to internalizing problems

J Affect Disord. 2018 Jan 1;225:207-213. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2017.08.034. Epub 2017 Aug 16.


Background: The aim of this study was to provide a conceptual test of how social inhibition, sense of belonging and internalizing problems are related, and whether sense of belonging moderates or mediates the relation between social inhibition and internalizing problems.

Methods: Data were used from two waves of the Dutch internet cohort LISS (Longitudinal Internet Studies of the Social Sciences; N = 511, M age = 52.09 years). Social inhibition was measured using the DS14 in 2012, sense of belonging (i.e., feeling cut off and having people to really talk to) was measured with the General Social Exclusion Index in 2012 and internalizing problems with the MHI-5 in 2015.

Results: Social inhibition was related to a lower sense of belonging and more internalizing problems. A low sense of belonging was related to more internalizing problems. Results indicated no moderation. However, evidence was found for partial mediation. That is, feeling cut off and having people to really talk to explained part of the link between social inhibition and internalizing problems. All analyses were controlled for sex, age and income.

Limitations: The items used to measure sense of belonging only cover part of the construct. The study was not fully prospective, as such, no conclusions can be drawn regarding causality.

Conclusions: Low sense of belonging is a key factor to consider when aiming at understanding individual differences in internalizing psychopathology related to social inhibition.

Keywords: Internalizing problems; Mediation; Moderation; Sense of belonging; Social inhibition.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Defense Mechanisms
  • Emotions
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Development
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychological Distance*
  • Psychology, Social
  • Young Adult