Elisabeth Nombro, Dr. Enrico DiTommaso, and Dr. L. MacNeill
Department of Psychology, University of New Brunswick
Past research suggests that people with high levels of depression and anxiety tend to have a negative interpretation of ambiguous social stimuli. Chronic loneliness is highly correlated with depression and anxiety, leading many researchers to assume that chronic loneliness is also related to a negative interpretation of ambiguous information. However, past studies exploring this relationship suffered from methodological issues. The current study examined the relationship between chronic loneliness and interpretation of ambiguous information, addressing the methodological issues of past studies. One hundred and thirty-one participants were recruited from undergraduate psychology classes and from the general public through social media. Participants completed measures of loneliness, social anxiety, depression, and a measure of their interpretation of ambiguous stimuli. Relationships between the three subtypes of chronic loneliness (social, family, and romantic) and participants’ ratings of the pleasantness of the ambiguous situations were assessed using Pearson correlation and regression analyses. Results showed that higher levels of chronic loneliness were related to more negative interpretation of ambiguous social information. In addition, social loneliness negatively predicted pleasantness ratings over and above the effect of depression and anxiety. These results are important as they might lead to ways of improving treatment methods for chronic loneliness, in particular social loneliness. For example, incorporating an interpretation bias reduction program in a cognitive behavioural therapy could significantly improve treatment outcomes for socially lonely individuals.