Positive coping style as a mediator between older adults’ self-esteem and loneliness
Le Zhao (Beijing Normal University), Xing Zhang (Southwest University), and Guangming Ran (China West Normal University), 2017, 45(10), 1619–1628.

With their physical health deteriorating and their social networks shrinking, it is not surprising that older adults are susceptible to loneliness. In China, over 50% of older adults experience loneliness (Chen, Hicks, & While, 2014) so it is vital that academics and practitioners identify risk factors and develop prevention strategies.

Previous researchers who have studied aging have been primarily concerned with the impact of social support on loneliness. Older adults are more likely to experience the death of a partner and are more at risk of physical illness, both of which reduce the quality and quantity of their avenues for social support. Previous SBP Journal researchers have found that social support is inversely related to the loneliness and depression of immobile older adults in Hong Kong (Cheung, Leung, Chan, & Ma, 1998). Furthermore, support from family provides a stronger buffer against loneliness in older adults than does support from friends and neighbors (Chen et al., 2014). In particular, older women who are widowers and whose adult children have “left the nest” experience greater loneliness.

However, few researchers have explored older adults’ ability to cope with a lack of social support and loneliness. It also remains unclear how older adults manage and maintain their existing social relationships. Older adults experience reduced executive control, which makes social interactions difficult (Henry, von Hippel, & Baynes, 2009). They are less able to read social cues in a conversation, such as knowing when to stop talking, and are more likely to commit social faux pas. SBP Journal authors Zhao, Zhang, and Ran (2017) believed these negative experiences would reduce older adults’ self-esteem and lead to an avoidance of future social interactions, thus exacerbating their loneliness.

Therefore, Zhao et al. (2017) conducted this study to examine the relationships between self-esteem, coping style, and loneliness in older adults. They analyzed self-reports from 309 older adults (aged 60–88 years) from Chongqing, China, and found that self-esteem was positively correlated with a positive coping style (i.e., a tendency to reappraise negative stressors), but was not significantly related to a negative coping style (i.e., withdrawal from and avoidance of stressful situations). Further, self-esteem and a positive coping style were both negatively correlated with loneliness. Results of structural equation modeling revealed that positive coping style partially mediated the relationship between self-esteem and loneliness. Although older adults often adopt negative coping strategies to cope with socioemotional and physical setbacks, positive coping strategies (e.g., “looking on the bright side”) will enable older adults to better enjoy new social interactions and maintain friendships, thus reducing their loneliness.

I have always been interested in the social behavior of older adults and this research has shed light on how they can actively reduce their experience of loneliness, even when they have limited social support networks.  


Chen, Y., Hicks, A., & While, A. E. (2014). Loneliness and social support of older people in China: A systematic literature review. Health and Social Care in the Community, 22, 113–123. https://doi.org/f5tzkj

Cheung, C.-K., Leung, K.-K., Chan, W.-T., & Ma, K. (1998). Depression, loneliness, and health in an adverse living environment: A study of bedspace residents in Hong Kong. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 26, 151–170. https://doi.org/fqsrzk

Henry, J. D., von Hippel, W., & Baynes, K. (2009). Social inappropriateness, executive control, and aging. Psychology and Aging, 24, 239–244. https://doi.org/b5bc5r

Helen Owen | Associate Editor
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal