Solitude is not just for hermits

Thomas, V., Balzer Carr, B., Azmitia, M., & Whittaker, S. (2020, April 9). Alone and Online: Understanding the Relationships Between Social Media, Solitude, and Psychological Adjustment. Psychology of Popular Media. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000287


This study is interesting because it sheds light on the relationship between those who prefer solitude and the use of social media. The common perception of an extrovert is a person who is gregarious and is the life of the party. While it is true that they might prefer socializing with others, they are fed by the energy of others.


On the other hand, we often perceive introverts to be "shy." They might enjoy smaller crowds because they don't need the energy of others. Instead, they gather their energy when they are alone. This study, along with others, differentiates two types of introverts--high-functioning and low-functioning. High-functioning introverts tend to be less lonely and seek solitude. Low-functioning introverts scored higher on trait loneliness and didn't seek solitude. They also had lower development of their identity, lower autonomy, and decreased positive relationships.


Here's what they first measured:

  1. preference for solitude

  2. motivation for solitude

  3. Big Five--extraversion portion

  4. Identity (e.g. "I've got a clear idea of what I want to be.")

  5. loneliness scale

  6. autonomy (e.g. "Being happy with myself is more important than having others approve of me."

  7. positive relations with others ("most people see me as loving and affectionate.").

Then they popped in every once in a while onto the participants' phones with a quick survey. They measured these:

  1. their current mood (happy, calm, excited, sociable, cheerful, relaxed, lonely--with their polar opposites)

  2. alone status and preference (truly alone=physically alone and not communicating with anyone; device alone=physically alone but communicating on a device; around others but not communicating with them; socially interacting with others; social while on device=with others, but communicating on device with others). Asked one question about whether or not they preferred to be alone

  3. social media usage

Results:

People who spent time "truly alone" were introverts, had high psychosocial functioning (autonomy and positive relationships), preferred solitude (#1), and a lower negative motivation for solitude (#2). High-functioning introverts used social media less than low-functioning introverts. They tended to spend more time "truly alone" and felt less lonely. They also had greater identity development (#4), felt more autonomous (#6), and had positive relationships (#7). Extraverts also tended to spend as much time on social media as their high-functioning introverted counterparts if they exhibited the same psychological adjustment previously indicated.


On the other hand, low-functioning introverts used social media more often, and they tended to be more lonely. They had lower self-determined solitude, spending less time "truly alone" than the high-functioning introverts. The researchers concluded that "they were choosing to be alone owing to negative reasons such as social anxiety or lack of close friends, rather than positive reasons such as creative expression or self-reflection (p. 8)." A preference for solitude, rather than extraversion/introversion, was a better predictor of how often someone engaged in social media.


In terms of loneliness, it predicted social media use. Participants were happier, less bored, and less lonely when alone with their devices. If participants chose to be alone, they were equally happy to be truly alone or alone with their devices. If participants preferred being with others, they were happier alone with their devices than being truly alone.


The researchers also speculated that those who had low identity development might not know how to spend time alone to reflect on their identity. Furthermore, because social media tends to be "outward facing," that is, about how individuals present themselves to others, it might inhibit the necessary inward reflection needed to develop an identity.


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