Social Isolation and Loneliness among Adults Aged 50 Years and Older in the United States: An Analysis of the Cognitive Discrepancy Theory
Background: Substantial evidence suggests that social isolation and loneliness have negative consequences, particularly during older adulthood. As the U.S. population continues to age, the issue of social isolation and loneliness will become increasingly important to address. Thus, the aim of the current study was to apply the cognitive discrepancy theory (Perlman & Peplau, 1998) to investigate the psychosocial predictors of loneliness and to examine the complex relationship between objective social isolation and loneliness among middle-aged and older adults utilizing the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) both cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Methods: Using the 2008 and 2012 waves of the HRS, a nationally representative, longitudinal study, the current study included 3,345 participants. Participants completed measures on 1) predisposing factors (e.g., age, gender, race, income, and neighborhood disorder), a precipitating factor (e.g., functional impairment), structural social resources (e.g., objective characteristics of the social environment), functional social resources (e.g., perceived social support), protective (e.g., optimism, mastery, purpose in life) and exacerbating (e.g., depression, control constraints, experiences of age-based discrimination, and negative self-perceptions of aging) cognition and attribution factors, and 6) loneliness, as the outcome. Results: Overall, while controlling for the predisposing and precipitating factors, functional social resources had a moderate direct effect on loneliness cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Functional social resources also mediated the relationship between structural social resources and loneliness cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Cognition and attribution factors were related to loneliness cross-sectionally and longitudinally such that protective factors were negatively related to loneliness, and exacerbating factors were positively related to loneliness cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Optimism buffered the negative impact of poor functional social resources on loneliness while control constraints, experiences of age-based discrimination, and negative self-perceptions of aging exacerbated this relationship cross-sectionally. Conclusion: The current study applied the cognitive discrepancy theory (Perlman & Peplau, 1998) to examine the psychosocial predictors of loneliness and to elucidate the complex relationship between objective social isolation and the subjective experience of loneliness among adults aged 50 years and older. Altogether, findings from the current study inform the development of new interventions to mitigate loneliness among middle-aged and older adults, particularly in the domain of intergenerational contact programs.
Aging|Mental health|Social psychology|Psychology
Minahan Zucchetto, Jillian M, "Social Isolation and Loneliness among Adults Aged 50 Years and Older in the United States: An Analysis of the Cognitive Discrepancy Theory" (2021). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28495998.