Researchers have claimed that loneliness is a public health crisis, resulting in higher rates of morbidity and mortality. Previous research has found that self-monitoring (one’s tendency to be aware of and fit one’s behavior to norms of social appropriateness) and emotion suppression (the act of inhibiting behavioral and non-verbal expressions of emotion) are predictors of increased loneliness. The current study examined these connections further, proposing that the link between suppression and loneliness is moderated by self-monitoring. Undergraduate students (N = 142) completed measures of loneliness, self-monitoring, and emotion suppression. The hypothesized interaction was significant. Supplementary analyses indicated that at average and high levels of self-monitoring, higher suppression is significantly associated with higher loneliness, but this association was not found at low levels of self-monitoring. This is some of the first evidence to demonstrate a link between emotion suppression, self-monitoring, and loneliness. Replications in other age groups are recommended along with future research designed to examine mechanism of effect between these variables.
In a 2017 plenary address to the American Psychological Association, Julianne Holt-Lunstad proposed that loneliness and social isolation are a public health crisis, one that may be even more hazardous than obesity (Holt-Lunstad, 2017). In their systematic overview (a review of meta-analyses, systematic and non-systematic reviews), Leigh-Hunt et al. (2017) concluded that loneliness and social isolation are associated with an increase in all-cause mortality, with the strongest evidence for a link with cardiovascular disease. Further, the health risks of loneliness may stem from factors other than just disease. In a general population study of over 7000 adults, Stickley and Koyanagi (2016) found that loneliness was a significant predictor of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, even when controlling for common mental disorders. Aside from the link with increased mortality, loneliness – “the subjective experience that one’s social network is insufficient in size or unsatisfactory in quality” (De Jong Gierveld, 1987 as cited in Böger & Huxhold, 2018) – has also been associated with poorer mental health, including increased depressive symptoms (Cacioppo, Hughes, Waite, Hawkley, & Thisted, 2006), increased social anxiety (Lim, Rodebaugh, Zyphur, & Gleeson, 2016), and increased generalized anxiety and panic attacks (Beutel et al., 2017). The problem is not likely to go away anytime soon; researchers assert that the number of people reporting loneliness is increasing both in the United States and abroad (Cacioppo, Grippo, London, Goossens, & Cacioppo, 2015). Not only has research examined the multitude of negative outcomes associated with loneliness, but it has also examined a myriad number of predictors (e.g., Mahon, Yarcheski, Yarcheski, Cannella, & Hanks, 2006). Surprisingly, one factor that has not received a lot of research attention is emotion regulation, specifically emotion suppression.