Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Lilly, Michelle M.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


An individual’s perception of a social relationship is distinct from an individual’s difficulty forming and maintaining social relationships. Loneliness is defined as an individual’s distress resulting from the discrepancy between perceived and desired social relationship quality. In the short term, loneliness may act as a motivator for an individual to seek social support to minimize distress. However, long-term loneliness is associated with physical and psychological impairments. There have been several risk factors identified that contribute to chronic loneliness, such as social isolation, psychopathology, and ineffective coping strategies. Ineffective coping may be one mechanism by which loneliness is associated with psychopathology (e.g., depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD]). One example of ineffective coping is experiential avoidance (EA), an unwillingness to remain in discomfort. Individuals with high levels of loneliness also report high levels of EA. An effective intervention for EA incorporates learning about and implementing approach behaviors through mindfulness. Teoh et al. conducted a meta-analysis examining the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions on loneliness. Results indicated that the intervention with the strongest effect was cognitive behavioral compassion therapy, which improved self-compassion within young adult populations. There is a gap in the literature examining whether a brief, self-guided self-compassion intervention may also effectively reduce EA and loneliness. The current study addressed this gap by comparing outcomes between a condition that completed a three-day self-guided self-compassion intervention to a control condition that completed a progressive muscle relaxation exercise to examine the relationship between EA and loneliness within undergraduate students (N = 104, Mage = 19.09). Participants completed baseline questionnaires before participating in either a self-guided self-compassion mindfulness audio recording (intervention condition) or progressive muscle relaxation audio recording (control condition) for three consecutive days. Participants then completed post-intervention questionnaires one-week after completion of the baseline measures. Analyses indicated that when controlling for psychopathology (i.e., depression, anxiety, PTSD) and gender, EA was not significantly associated with loneliness. Further, results showed that the significant association between pre- and postloneliness scores was not based on condition (intervention versus control). Overall, the self-compassion intervention did not have a significant effect on loneliness compared to the control exercise. Additionally, results showed that the significant association between pre- and postintervention EA was not based on condition. Therefore, the change between pre- and post-loneliness and EA scores may not be related to the type of intervention that was implemented. Lastly, EA change (from pre- to postintervention) did not mediate the association between condition and loneliness. Factors contributing to null findings and study implications are discussed.


113 pages




Northern Illinois University

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