Misty Forest Reflection


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It is undeniable that social connections and interactions are key to the human experience. Perhaps for this reason, laypeople and scientists alike have assumed that being alone is aversive, a state inexorably tied to lonely emotions and sense of isolation. Yet solitude is experienced daily by nearly everyone, and though it can be negative it can also be a constructive and rewarding time. What makes some more psychologically resilient to solitude and why do some experience fewer of the negative and more of the positive emotions associated with this potentially challenging state? The SOAR project, funded by the European Research Council, will integrate fragmented literatures and model contributions of predictors at event, individual, and cultural levels.



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Netta Weinstein, Ph.D.

Netta Weinstein is a psychologist trained in both clinical work and research, and an Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of Reading (UK). She has written numerous articles on motivation, relationships, well-being, and knowing oneself. She is a graduate of the University of Rochester, and now teaches and conducts research at the University of Reading.



Thuy-vy Nguyen, Ph.D.

Thuy-vy Nguyen is an Assistant Professor at the University of Durham (UK). She is an expert in studying solitude in laboratory experiments, investigating various factors that lead to different concepts of solitude. She is a graduate of the University of California at Irvine and the University of Rochester.

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Investigator and Journalist

Heather Hansen

Heather Hansen is an award-winning journalist and author who was a reporter for a weekly newspaper and a city magazine before going freelance two decades ago. Her work has appeared in various media outlets worldwide. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the University of California at Berkeley. She also has collaborated with the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Utah.


Weinstein & Nguyen, 2020. Motivation and preference in isolation: a test of their different influences on responses to self-isolation during the COVID-19 outbreak.

This multi-wave study examined the extent that both preference and motivation for time alone shapes ill-being during self-isolation. Individuals in the USA and the UK are self-isolating in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Different motivations may drive their self-isolation: some might see value in it (understood as the identified form of autonomous motivation), while others might feel forced into it by authorities or close others (family, friends, neighbourhoods, doctors; the external form of controlled motivation). People who typically prefer company will find themselves spending more time alone, and may experience ill-being uniformly, or as a function of their identified or external motivations for self-isolation. Self-isolation, therefore, offers a unique opportunity to distinguish two constructs coming from disparate literatures. This project examined preference and motivation (identified and external) for solitude, and tested their independent and interacting contributions to ill-being (loneliness, depression and anxiety during the time spent alone) across two weeks. Confirmatory hypotheses regarding preference and motivation were not supported by the data. A statistically significant effect of controlled motivation on change in ill-being was observed one week later, and preference predicted ill-being across two weeks. However, effect sizes for both were below our minimum threshold of interest.

Full text available at RSOS

Full reference:

Weinstein, N., & Nguyen, T. V. (2020). Motivation and preference in isolation: a test of their different influences on responses to self-isolation during the COVID-19 outbreak. Royal Society open science, 7(5), 200458. 

Weinstein, N., Przybylski, A. K., & Ryan, R. M. (2012). The index of autonomous functioning: Development of a scale of human autonomy. Journal of Research in Personality, 46(4), 397-413.
​doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2012.03.007

Nguyen, T. V. T., Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2018). Solitude as an approach to affective self-regulation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44(1), 92-106.doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167217733073

Nguyen et al., 2021. The Possibilities of Aloneness and Solitude: Developing an Understanding Framed through the Lens of Human Motivation and Needs. 

We review literature and experimental data to distinguish solitude from other situations where people are alone but preoccupied by external activities or presence of other people. We further explore meaningful factors shaping solitary experiences, including the reasons for which we find ourselves alone, the activities that we engage in, and the characteristics of solitude that feel authentic and true to ourselves. Thus, this chapter aims to advance understanding of the nuances around our solitary experiences and emphasizes the importance of exploring the nuances of solitude instead of treating it as a unidimensional phenomenon.

Full text available on psyarxiv

Full reference:

Nguyen, T. V. T., Weinstein, N., & Ryan, R. M. (2021). The Possibilities of Aloneness and Solitude: Developing an Understanding Framed through the Lens of Human Motivation and Needs. The Handbook of Solitude: Psychological Perspectives on Social Isolation, Social Withdrawal, and Being Alone, 224-239.