Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 28, Issue 5, pp 1326–1336 | Cite as

Loneliness, Social Anxiety, and Depressive Symptoms in Adolescence: Examining Their Distinctiveness Through Factor Analysis

  • Sofie DanneelEmail author
  • Patricia Bijttebier
  • Margot Bastin
  • Hilde Colpin
  • Wim Van den Noortgate
  • Karla Van Leeuwen
  • Karine Verschueren
  • Luc Goossens
Original Paper



Adolescents face multiple changes in their social environment, which makes them more vulnerable to developing internalizing problems with strong interpersonal components, such as feelings of loneliness, social anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Given the widespread tacit assumption that these internalizing problems represent distinct concepts, research on these internalizing problems has evolved relatively independently. However, this assumption of distinctiveness has not often been empirically tested, especially not in adolescence. In order to check whether it is valid to examine loneliness, social anxiety, and depressive symptoms independently, the current study empirically tested whether these internalizing problems reflect a single latent construct or whether they are better represented by three distinct latent constructs.


Three large samples of Flemish adolescents were used (i.e., N= 549, Mage = 14.82 in Sample 1; N= 1,116, Mage = 13.79, in Sample 2, and N= 1,423, Mage = 13.58 in Sample 3) in which adolescents filled out well-established and validated self-report questionnaires tapping into the three types of internalizing problems. Confirmatory factor analysis was conducted in each sample separately. Adolescents filled out well-established and validated self-report questionnaires.


The results contribute to the literature on the co-occurrence of loneliness, social anxiety, and depressive symptoms by showing that these internalizing problems can be best represented as interrelated, but distinguishable constructs.


Based on our findings, examining loneliness, social anxiety, and depressive symptoms in separate research lines seems justified. Statistical techniques examining co-development over time for these internalizing problems can be used with confidence in future research.


Loneliness Social anxiety Depressive symptoms Adolescence Confirmatory factor analysis 



This study was funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) (Grant number: G.0565.15N).

Author Contributions

S.D.: Executed the study and wrote the paper. P.B.: Designed the study and collaborated in the editing of the manuscript. M.B.: Designed the study, collected the data, and collaborated in the editing of the final manuscript. H.C.: Designed the study and collaborated in the editing of the manuscript. W.V.: Designed the study, supervised the methodological and statistical aspects of the study, and collaborated in the editing of the manuscript. K.V.: Designed the study and collaborated in the editing of the manuscript. K.V.: Designed the study and collaborated in the editing of the manuscript. L.G.: Designed the study and collaborated in the writing of the study.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the KU Leuven and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Alfano, C. A., & Beidel, D. C. (2011). Social anxiety in adolescents and young adults: Translating developmental science into practice. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  3. Barrett, P. (2007). Structural equation modeling: Adjudging model fit. Personality and Individual Differences, 42, 815–824. 10.1016/j.paid.2006.09.018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bastin M., Luyckx K., Raes F., Nelis S., & Bijttebier P. (2016). Co-rumination and depressive symptoms in adolescence: The intervening role of rumination. Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence. Baltimore, MD, USA, 31 March–2 April 2016.Google Scholar
  5. Blossom, P., & Apsche, J. (2013). Effects of loneliness on human development. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 7, 28–29. Scholar
  6. Boivin, M., Hymel, S., & Bukowski, W. M. (1995). The roles of social withdrawal, peer rejection, and victimization by peers in predicting loneliness and depressed mood in childhood. Development and Psychopathology, 7, 765–785. Scholar
  7. Bouma, J., Ranchor, A. V., Sanderman, R., & van Sonderen, E. (1995). Het meten van symptomen van depressie met de CES-D: Een handleiding [Measuring symptoms of depression with the CES-D: Manual]. Groningen, The Netherlands: Noordelijk Centrum voor Gezondheidsvraagstukken, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.Google Scholar
  8. Brown, B. B., & Larson, J. (2009). Peer relationships in adolescence. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (3rd ed., pp. 74–103). Hoboken, NJ: Erlbaum.
  9. Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L. C., Ernst, J. M., Burleson, M., Berntson, G. G., Nouriani, B., & Spiegel, B. (2006). Loneliness within a nomological net: An evolutionary perspective. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 1054–1085. Scholar
  10. Chen, F. F. (2007). Sensitivity of goodness of fit indexes to lack of measurement invariance. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 14, 464–504. Scholar
  11. Costello, E. J., Mustillo, S., Erkanli, A., Keeler, G., & Angold, A. (2003). Prevalence and development of psychiatric disorders in childhood and adolescence. Archives of General Psychiatry, 60, 837–844. Scholar
  12. Fung, K., Paterson, D., & Alden, L. E. (2017). Are social anxiety and loneliness best conceptualized as a unitary trait? Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 36, 335–345. Scholar
  13. Furman, W., & Buhrmester, D. (1992). Age and sex differences in perceptions of networks of personal relationships. Child Development, 63, 103–115. Scholar
  14. Gibb, B. E., Coles, M. E., & Heimberg, R. G. (2005). Differentiating symptoms of social anxiety and depression in adults with social anxiety disorder. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 36, 99–109. Scholar
  15. Goossens, L. (Ed.). (2016). Leuvense Eenzaamheidsschaal voor Kinderen en Adolescenten: Handleiding [Loneliness and Aloneness Scale for Children and Adolescents: Manual]. Leuven, Belgium: Acco.Google Scholar
  16. Gueldner, B. A., & Merrell, K. W. (2011). Interventions for students with internalizing behavioral deficits. In M. A. Bray & T. J. Kehle (Eds.). The Oxford handbook of school psychology (pp. 411–428). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Heinrich, L. A., & Gullone, E. (2006). The clinical significance of loneliness: A literature review. Clinical Psychology Review, 26, 695–718. Scholar
  18. Hooge, J., Decaluwé, L., & Goossens, L. (2000). Identiteit en psychisch welbevinden [Identity and well-being]. In J. Hooge, H. De Witte, & L. Walgrave (Eds.), Jongeren in Vlaanderen: Gemeten en geteld. 12- tot 18-jarigen over hun leefwereld en toekomst (pp. 35–58). Leuven, Belgium: Universitaire Pers Leuven.Google Scholar
  19. Hu, L., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 6, 1–55. Scholar
  20. Hutcherson, S. T., & Epkins, C. C. (2009). Differentiating parent- and peer-related interpersonal correlates of depressive symptoms and social anxiety in preadolescent girls. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 26, 875–897. Scholar
  21. Janssens, A., Van den Noortgate, W., Goossens, L., Verschueren, K., Colpin, H., De Laet, S., Claes, S., & Van Leeuwen, K. (2015). Externalizing problem behavior in adolescence: Dopaminergic genes in interaction with peer acceptance and rejection. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44, 1441–1456. Scholar
  22. Junttila, N., Laakkonen, E., Niemi, P. M., & Ranta, K. (2010). Modeling the interrelations of adolescents´ loneliness, social anxiety and social phobia. Scientific Annals of the Psychological Society of Northern Greece, 8, 69–99.Google Scholar
  23. Kline, R. B. (2005). Principles and practice of structural equation modeling. New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  24. Kovacs, M. (2003). Children’s Depression Inventory: Technical manual. New York, NY: Multi-Health Systems.Google Scholar
  25. La Greca, A. M., & Harrison, H. M. (2005). Adolescent peer relations, friendships, and romantic relationships: Do they predict social anxiety and depression? Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 34, 49–61. Scholar
  26. La Greca, A. M., & Lopez, N. (1998). Social anxiety among adolescents: Linkages with peer relations and friendships. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 26, 83–94. Scholar
  27. Lasgaard, M., Goossens, L., & Elklit, A. (2011). Loneliness, depressive symptomatology, and suicide ideation in adolescence: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 39, 137–150. Scholar
  28. Lovibond, P. F., & Lovibond, S. H. (1995). The structure of negative emotional states: Comparison of the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS) with the Beck Depression and Anxiety Inventories. Behavior Research and Therapy, 33, 335–343. Scholar
  29. Maes, M., Van Den Noortgate, W., & Goossens, L. (2015). A reliability generalization study for a multidimensional loneliness scale: The Loneliness and Aloneness Scale for Children and Adolescents. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 31, 294–301. Scholar
  30. Mahon, N. E., Yarcheski, A., Yarcheski, T. J., Cannella, B. L., & Hanks, M. M. (2006). A meta-analytic study of predictors for loneliness during adolescence. Nursing Research, 55, 308–315. Scholar
  31. Matthews, T., Danese, A., Wertz, J., Odgers, C. L., Ambler, A., Moffit, T. E., & Arseneault, L. (2016). Social isolation, loneliness, and depression in young adulthood: A behavioural genetic analysis. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 51, 339–348. Scholar
  32. Mattick, R. P., & Clarke, J. C. (1998). Development and validation of measures of social phobia scrutiny fear and social interaction anxiety. Behavior Research and Therapy, 36, 455–470. Scholar
  33. Muthén, B. (1984). A general structural equation model with dichotomous, ordered categorical, and continuous latent variable indicators. Psychometrika, 49, 115–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2017). Mplus user’s guide. 8th ed. Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.Google Scholar
  35. Nelemans, S. A., Meeus, W. H., Branje, S. J., Van Leeuwen, K., Colpin, H., Verschueren, K., & Goossens, L. (2017). Social anxiety scale for adolescents (SAS-A) short form: Longitudinal measurement invariance in two community samples of youth. Assessment.
  36. Nelis, S., Bastin, M., Raes, F., Mezulis, A., & Bijttebier, P. (2016). Trait affectivity and response styles to positive affect: Negative affectivity related to dampening and positive affectivity relates to enhancing. Personality and Individual Differences, 96, 148–154. Scholar
  37. Ollendick, T. H., & Hirshfeld-Becker, D. R. (2002). The developmental psychopathology of social anxiety disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 51, 44–58. Scholar
  38. Perlman, D., & Peplau, L. A. (1981). Toward a social psychology of loneliness. In S. Duck, R. Gilmour (Eds.), Personal relationships in disorder. (Vol. 3, pp. 31–56). London, UK: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  39. Platt, B., Kadosh, K. C., & Lau, J. Y. F. (2013). The role of peer rejection in adolescent depression. Depression and Anxiety, 30, 809–821. Scholar
  40. Poulin, C. C., Hand, D., & Boudreau, B. (2005). Validity of a 12-item version of the CES-D used in the National Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth. Chronic Diseases in Canada, 26, 65–72.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Qualter, P., Vanhalst, J., Harris, R., Van Roekel, E., Lodder, G., Bangee, M., & Verhagen, M. (2015). Loneliness across the life span. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10, 250–264. Scholar
  42. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385–401. Scholar
  43. Roberts, R. E., & Sobhan, M. (1992). Symptoms of depression in adolescence: A comparison of Anglo, African, and Hispanic Americans. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 21, 639–651. Scholar
  44. Russell, D., Peplau, L. A., & Cutrona, C. E. (1980). The revised UCLA loneliness scale: Concurrent and discriminant validity evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 472–480. Scholar
  45. Siddaway, A. P., Wood, A. M., & Taylor, P. J. (2017). The Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale measures a continuum from well-being to depression: Testing two key predictions of positive clinical psychology. Journal of Affective Disorders, 213, 180–186. Scholar
  46. Sowislo, J. F., & Orth, U. (2013). Does low self-esteem predict depression and anxiety? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 213–240. Scholar
  47. Spithoven, A. W. M., Lodder, G. M. A., Goossens, L., Bijttebier, P., Bastin, M., Verhagen, M., & Scholte, R. H. J. (2017). Adolescents’ loneliness and depression associated with friendship experiences and well-being: A person-centered approach. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 46, 429–441. Scholar
  48. Starr, L. R., & Davila, J. (2008). Differentiating interpersonal correlates of depressive symptoms and social anxiety in adolescence: Implications for models of comorbidity. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 37, 337–349. Scholar
  49. Su, S., Pettit, G. S., & Erath, S. A. (2016). Peer relations, parental social coaching, and young adolescent social anxiety. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 42, 89–97. Scholar
  50. Tabachnick, B. G., & Fidell, L. S. (2001). Using multivariate statistics. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  51. Teppers, E., Klimstra, T. A., Van Damme, C., Luyckx, K., Vanhalst, J., & Goossens, L. (2013). Personality traits, loneliness, and attitudes toward aloneness in adolescence. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30, 1045–1063. Scholar
  52. Timbremont, B. & Braet, C. (2002). Handleiding children’s depression inventory [Children’s Depression Inventory: Manual]. Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets Test Publishers.Google Scholar
  53. Van de Schoot, R., Lugtig, P., & Hox, J. (2012). A checklist for testing measurement invariance. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9, 486–492. Scholar
  54. Vanhalst, J., Luyckx, K., Scholte, R., Engels, R., & Goossens, L. (2013). Low self-esteem as a risk factor for loneliness in adolescence: Perceived – but not actual – social acceptance as an underlying mechanism. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 41, 1067–1081. Scholar
  55. van Tuijl, L. A., de Jong, P. J., Sportel, B. E., de Hullu, E., & Nauta, M. H. (2014). Implicit and explicit self-esteem and their reciprocal relationship with symptoms of depression and social anxiety: A longitudinal study in adolescents. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 45, 113–121. Scholar
  56. Wang, W. T., Hsu, W. Y., Chiu, Y. C., & Liang, C. W. (2012). The hierarchical model of social interaction anxiety and depression: The critical roles of fears of evaluation. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 26, 215–224. Scholar
  57. Wu, Q., Erbas, Y., Brose, A., Kuppens, P., & Janssen, R. (2016). The factor structure, predictors, and percentile norms of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CES-D) Scale in the Dutch-speaking adult population. Psychologica Belgica, 56, 1–12. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sofie Danneel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patricia Bijttebier
    • 1
  • Margot Bastin
    • 1
  • Hilde Colpin
    • 1
  • Wim Van den Noortgate
    • 2
  • Karla Van Leeuwen
    • 3
  • Karine Verschueren
    • 1
  • Luc Goossens
    • 1
  1. 1.School Psychology and Development in Context Research Group, KU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.Methodology of Educational Sciences, KU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  3. 3.Parenting and Special Education Research Group, KU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

Personalised recommendations