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Beyond the Vulnerabilities of Loneliness: The Protective Role of Social Resources against Daily Stress

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Lonely individuals are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of everyday stressors. Yet, little work has examined potential protective factors that may reduce lonely individuals’ negative experiences of daily stress. Across three studies, this dissertation identifies the situations in daily life that are related to differences in well-being between lonely and non-lonely adults, as well as factors that may be protective against everyday stressors for lonely individuals' daily well-being. The first study used an ecological momentary assessment design to examine how loneliness was related to different facets of well-being (emotional and physical well-being) across varying social contexts. Results indicated that being with others (vs. being alone) was a positive experience for both lonely and non-lonely older adults (increased positive affect and energy and decreased tiredness); yet, lonely individuals also showed an increased negative affect. In addition, lonely older adults reported a greater increase in negative affect than non-lonely individuals following a stressful interaction (vs. no stressful interaction). The next two studies examined positive factors that may serve a buffering effect for lonely individuals’ greater reactivity to daily stress. In the second study, positive network quality buffered the adverse effects of negative social interactions on emotional well-being (positive and negative affect) for lonely older adults, but not non-lonely adults (Chapter 3). The third study examined a protective factor that can vary from day to day – the occurrence of positive events. Results revealed that experiencing a positive event on the same day as experiencing a stressor was only protective for lonely individuals, but not non-lonely individuals. Importantly, only daily positive social events (i.e., positive interpersonal exchange) were related to a blunted increase in daily negative affect, whereas daily positive non-social events (i.e., those not involving a social component such as daily uplift at work) didn’t show a protective effect. Together, findings from this dissertation expand our knowledge about the daily vulnerabilities of lonely individuals and further identify positive factors that protect against the harmful effects of everyday stressors. Results indicate that potentially modifiable resources, such as positive social networks and daily positive social events, may be important points of future interventions.

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This item is under embargo until June 10, 2024.