The Capacity to Be Alone as a Stress Buffer

Topics: Sociology, Interaction, Psychology Pages: 18 (5797 words) Published: April 4, 2013
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The Journal of Social Psychology
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The Capacity to Be Alone as a Stress Buffer
Reed Larson & Meery Lee
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Department of Human and Community Development, University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign, USA Version of record first published: 01 Jul 2010.

To cite this article: Reed Larson & Meery Lee (1996): The Capacity to Be Alone as a Stress Buffer, The Journal of Social Psychology, 136:1, 5-16 To link to this article:

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The Journal of Social Psychology. 1996. /36(1).5-16

The Capacity to Be Alone as a Stress Buffer
REED LARSON MEERYLEE Department ofHuman and Community Development University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign

Downloaded by [] at 21:16 13 February 2013

ABSTRACT. The hypothesis that the ability to comfortably spend and use time alone is a buffer against effects of stress, comparable to social support, was tested. A 20-item instrument was developed to evaluate the capacity to be alone (Winnicott, 1958) and was then administered by telephone survey to 500 U.S. adults. Findings differed for two dimensions of the capacity to be alone. Reported comfort in being alone was found to be related to lower depression, fewer physical symptoms. and greater satisfaction with life. Reported ability to use time alone to deal with stress was not related to well-being. Neither dimension showed the expected interaction with stress, and individuals with high stress who reported high solitary coping exhibited greater vulnerability on one dimension of well-being, suggesting that this coping style may reflect maladjustment.

RESEARCHERS HAVE SOUGHT to identify protective mechanisms that can buffer people from the negative effects of stress. This work has consistently indicated that social support is one of the buffering mechanisms: People who have at least one person in whom they can confide appear to be less vulnerable to the impact of stress (Cohen & Wills, 1985). Not everyone, however, has access to such a confidant (Hansson, Jones, & Carpenter, 1984), nor are attempts to seek support from others always successful (Jung, 1989). Furthermore, maintenance of a social network of potential confidants may have costs as well as benefits (Rook, 1984), and prolonged reliance on others can lead to "caretaker burnout" (Cantor, 1983). Rather than relying on others, some individuals attempt to deal with stress through deliberate seclusion from social contact-through spending time alone in reflection and self-soothing activities (Repetti, 1989; Rubenstein & Shaver, 1982). In the 18th century, Rousseau (1778/1979) wrote, "The habit of retiring into myself eventually made me immune to the ills that beset me" (p. 35). ScholAddress correspondence to Reed...
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