Lonely people are more likely to feel like they have to put on a “false face” for others to see and this lack of authenticity in everyday life appears to play an important role in their sense of well-being, according to new research published in Current Psychology.
The study sought to shed light on the relationship between loneliness and well-being by examining the impact of authenticity and rumination.
Why were researchers interested in this?
“The purpose of my study was to examine the mediating role of authenticity and rumination in the relationship between loneliness and three aspects of well-being, such as pleasure, engagement and meaning,” said study author Dominik Borawski, an assistant professor at The Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce.
“I was interested in this topic because while in recent years a plentiful data has come to light indicating the detrimental effect of loneliness on well-being, we still know so little about the factors that can explain this relationship. Thus, one of the challenges faced by psychologists today is to search for the mechanisms underlying the loneliness – well-being link. Research in this area may help design future therapeutic interventions aimed at counteracting the adverse consequences of loneliness.”
“My study was an attempt to identify potential explanatory mechanisms among two self-related variables – authenticity and rumination. Although rumination (i.e. neurotic self-focused attention) has already been identified as a mediator of the relationship between loneliness and negative aspect of well-being, the role of authenticity has not been tested yet, in spite of the fact that there is both theoretical and empirical evidence indicating the link,” Borawski explained.
“Thus, while in case of rumination my work was an extension of previous studies, examining the mediating function of authenticity was a novel contribution to this area of research. When it comes to authenticity, my study was inspired by research and classic psychological theories which suggest that self-perception largely depends on the quality of interpersonal relations.”
“However, research to date has mostly concentrated on self-esteem, demonstrating that loneliness lowers its level. Personally, I was interested in a slightly different issue — whether authenticity (i.e. sense of being true to oneself in everyday life) could be an underlying mechanism of the relationship between loneliness and well-being,” Borawski said.
“In other words, do we need others to feel authentic? Does chronic loneliness weaken our contact with true self and in consequence makes us unhappy?”
For her study, Borawski surveyed 293 individuals in Poland regarding their loneliness, authenticity, rumination, and overall psychological well-being. As expected, higher loneliness was associated with reduced well-being. In other words, participants who agreed with statements such as “I miss having really close friends” also tended to agree with statements such as “I dislike my daily routine. Most of the time I am bored.”
The researcher also found evidence that loneliness was linked to reduced authenticity, which in turn was linked to intensified rumination. However, authenticity and rumination appeared to play different roles in their effect on psychological well-being.
Both variables mediated the relationship between loneliness and engagement with life (“Time passes so quickly during all of my activities that I do not even notice it”.) But rumination was a significant mediator of the link between loneliness and pleasure, while authenticity was a significant mediator of the link between loneliness and sense of purpose in life.
What were the most important findings?
“The results of the study confirm the loneliness-well-being link, additionally casting new light on the potential mechanisms underlying this relationship, which are different in the case of hedonic (i.e. pleasure) and eudaemonic (i.e. meaning) aspects of well-being,” Borawski told PsyPost.
“In fact it appears that authenticity is the only significant mediator in the relationship between loneliness and meaning while rumination is the crucial significant mediator in the loneliness-pleasure link. In addition, both mediators have their share in indirect effects of loneliness on engagement. It can therefore be concluded that rumination is a regulator of hedonic well-being while authenticity is strongly related to eudaemonic rather than hedonic well-being.”
“A particularly valuable contribution of this study lies in demonstrating the mediating role of authenticity in the loneliness-well-being link, which provides arguments for the thesis about interpersonal sources of authenticity. Apparently, by inhibiting authenticity, loneliness makes it difficult to perceive life as satisfying and meaningful,” Borawski said.
Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?
“I’m aware of few limitations of this study. The most important one lies in the fact that as it was cross sectional survey study, causality cannot be inferred. It is worth noting, however, that the impact of loneliness on sense of authenticity has been recently confirmed in my new experimental design (manuscript in preparation),” Borawski said.
“When considering the directions for future research in this area, apart from the testing of the mediating relationships in the experimental and longitudinal studies, it would be also interesting to see if the effect of loneliness on authenticity depends on some personality traits like vulnerable narcissism or shyness.”
The study, “Authenticity and rumination mediate the relationship between loneliness and well-being“, was published online on August 13, 2019.