Loneliness during childhood and adolescence: risk factors, individual differences in its course, and health outcomes

Reviews of loneliness conclude that it peaks during adolescence. In a series of studies, we examined whether there are individual differences in the time course of loneliness during childhood and adolescence and established that there are risk factors to following a high loneliness trajectory. Further, we established that there are long-term health effects of experiencing loneliness during childhood, even when loneliness levels reduce to normal at pre-adolescence and adolescence. Our studies showed that loneliness is associated with poor health in childhood and poor health behaviour (smoking, drug taking) during late adolescence. High levels of rigour are established in this work through the prospective method and the implementation of growth mixture modelling. The findings have implications for interventions for lonely children.

In our experimental work, we confirmed the ‘hyper-vigilance for social threat hypothesis’ (HSTH) for loneliness in primary school aged children using different methods and quadratic regression to determine whether significant effects are evident for children who are very high on peer-related loneliness. Confirming the HSTH during childhood is important because it indicates that this form of social information bias is evident during development and, therefore, a potential contributor to the persistence of loneliness from childhood through to adulthood, which itself predicts mental and physical health. The findings have implications for interventions for lonely children.

Project Lead

Pamela Qualter

Project Staff

Ms M. Bangee

Ms Jingqi Yang;

Internship available, including voluntary research assistant positions.


Studies examining the HSTH for loneliness were supported by a grant from The Economic and Social Research Council (Grant RES-000-22-1802)



1998 onwards


Dr S.L. Brown, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, England, UK

Professors John and Stephanie Cacioppo, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Professor K.J. Rotenberg, Keele University, Staffordshire, England, UK

Dr J. Vanhalst, & Professor L. Goossens, Catholic University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

Professor L. Barrett & Professor P. Henzi, Department of Psychology, University of Lethridge, Canada

Dr. A. Barlow, School of Education, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

Dr. R. Harris, School of Psychology, University of Bolton, Bolton, UK

Dr. M. Stylianou, Department of Psychology, Neapolis University, Pafos, Cyprus