Consideration of future consequences: How does solitude affect youth with behavioral issues?

Poon, C. Y. S., Chan, C. S., Chau, P. P. L., & Chan, C.-Y. (2021). Be still and you will know: A mixed-method study on solitude and consideration of future consequences among youth in rehabilitation. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 0306624X211058955.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Social media makes it’s difficult for many people to be alone with their thoughts.
  • Although many people think solitude is undesirable, evidence still highlights its benefits.
  • This study explores how solitude affects young people who struggle with behavioral issues.
  • Qualitative findings indicate that solitude can promote
    • the development of personal responsibility
    • shifts in life attitudes
    • the development of accounting for future consequences
    • more perspective-taking
    • more respect for rules
    • shifts in life attitudes
  • Quantitative results show that perceived meaningfulness in solitude correlates with more considerations of future consequences (CFC), but not in other interventions.
  • Intentional supervision and guidance provided by staff members play a role in the positive outcomes of mandated solitude.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Although solitude is found to be undesirable to many, systematic practice of it can yield positive psychological outcomes. This mixed-method study explored the process and influence of solitude as a behavioral intervention among youths in a therapeutic community in Hong Kong. Qualitative interviews with 43 youths (67.4% male, mean age = 18.3) revealed that solitude facilitated growth in their sense of personal responsibility, increased perspective-taking, increased respect for rules, change in life attitudes, and growth in consideration of future consequences. A two-wave prospective study (n = 79, 82.3% male, mean age = 17.4) further demonstrated perceived meaningfulness in solitude predicted an increase in consideration of future consequences, but not in other types of behavioral intervention. This study preliminarily demonstrated solitude has beneficial outcomes among high-risk youths, and meaning-making can facilitate this relationship.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This mixed-method study preliminarily demonstrated the beneficial influence of solitude among high-risk youth in rehabilitation. From Study 1, solitude was found to have a positive impact on CFC, personal responsibility, perspective-taking, and life attitudes. Moreover, our quantitative data in Study 2 demonstrated that meaningfulness of intervention predicted the increase of CFC in solitude.

This mixed-method study suggests that positive outcomes can result from solitude, even when solitude is others-imposed and involuntary. This coincides with the other studies noting the benefits of solitude under certain circumstances and situations (e.g., Long & Averill, 2003). Study 1 further expanded previous findings of the positive outcome of self-discovery, detailing how high-risk youths can, through the practice of solitude, CFC, understanding of personal responsibility, and consider others’ perspectives par with positive life attitudes.

Study 2 also examined whether consideration of future and immediate consequences can be increased over having meaning in an involuntary and other-imposed activity (i.e., behavioral intervention). Results indicated that meaningfulness of other-imposed activity could lead to CFC, but not immediate consequences. As people tend to emphasize short-term outcomes when in a negative emotional state (Gray, 1999; Tice et al., 2001), and meaningfulness is associated with decreasing negative affect (Schutte et al., 2012), henceforth it is not surprising that meaningfulness predicted increase in CFC, but not in the consideration of immediate consequences.

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