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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Motivation Matters: Development of a Short Form Measure of Solitude for Adolescents and Emerging Adults


Solitude affords adolescents and emerging adults opportunities for mood regulation (Larson, Csikszentmihalyi, & Graef, 1982), identity development (Larson, 1997), and self-reflection (Long & Averill, 2003) as they navigate the task of individuation (Grotevant & Cooper, 1998). The purpose of this study was to develop a short form of the Motivation for Solitude Scale (MSS) (Nicol, 2005); Nicol’s scale draws on Self-Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 2002) and distinguishes between self-determined solitude (SDS) (i.e., moving toward the self for creative or reflective purposes) and not-self-determined solitude (NSDS) (i.e., withdrawing from people because of rejection or anxiety). The MSS represents an improvement over the widely used Preference for Solitude Scale (PSS) (Burger, 1995) because the PSS does not differentiate between positive and negative reasons for preferring solitude. Mental health outcomes, such as loneliness, correlated with the PSS may depend on individuals’ motivation for solitude. 

College students comprised the samples for the first (N = 284) and second wave (N = 266), and adolescents the third wave (N = 176).

Consistent with Nicol’s findings, while all subscales of the short-form MSS positively correlated with PSS, only NSDS and PSS correlated negatively with autonomy and positive relations with others, and correlated positively with loneliness. In addition, only PSS and NSDS were negatively associated with identity development and extraversion.

These findings provide support for the usefulness of the MSS, which suggests that the motivation to be alone is a key factor in whether the experience of solitude is risky or generative. Solitude is associated with poor mental health outcomes only when it is not self-determined, that is, characterized by a withdrawal from others because of anxiety, discomfort or rejection. Self-determined solitude is not correlated with loneliness.

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