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Solitude and Social Withdrawal across the Lifespan

Module titleSolitude and Social Withdrawal across the Lifespan
Module codePSY3447
Academic year2021/2
Module staff

Dr Jennifer Lay (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Although we are social beings who need human contact to thrive, we spend much of our daily lives in solitude – alone or without social interaction. Solitude and social withdrawal can serve important functions, including self-reflection and emotion regulation. However, when taken to excess or for the wrong reasons, solitude may lead to social isolation, loneliness, and negative health consequences. Researchers are beginning to understand the multifaceted nature of solitude, including its short-term and long-term emotional, cognitive, and physiological correlates, at different stages of life and across cultures. This seminar will examine the functions and consequences of solitude across the lifespan (from childhood to old age), drawing on interdisciplinary theoretical work and the latest empirical findings in this emerging field of psychological research.

Module aims - intentions of the module

In this module, we will examine the causes, consequences, and experiential correlates of solitude and social withdrawal, taking an interdisciplinary approach that includes social psychological, lifespan developmental, and neurobiological perspectives. Our aim will be to study how and why people socially withdraw, and what makes solitude adaptive or maladaptive in different contexts and for different people. This module is interactive, and involves class discussions, group projects, peer critique, and recording and interpreting your own behaviour. We will examine scientific evidence and other scholarly work, and critically evaluate the contributions of different methodologies to understanding solitude, while reflecting on our own subjectivity in research design and interpretation.

By engaging with the weekly seminar content, participating in class discussions and interactive exercises, and completing individual and group assignments, you will further develop the following academic and professional skills:

  • Think rationally and develop reasoned arguments, and approach and solve problems in a rigorous and systematic way (linking theory to methods, developing your own ideas with confidence, being able to respond to novel and unfamiliar problems)
  • Develop interdisciplinary skills (drawing from several subdisciplines within psychology, learning how other disciplines can inform psychology and vice versa)
  • Manage structure (identifying key demands of a task, setting clearly defined goals, responding flexibly to changing priorities)
  • Develop time management skills (managing time effectively individually and within a group)
  • Collaborate (respecting the views and values of others, taking initiative and leading others, supporting others in their work, maintaining group cohesiveness and purpose)
  • Formulate research questions and hypotheses, and collect and analyse research data to inform your hypotheses (developing appropriate research questions and designs, participating critically in the research process, thoroughly and accurately interpreting research data)
  • Present to an audience of your peers (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats, persuading others of the relevance of your views and approach, responding positively and effectively to questions and feedback)

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe current approaches to the study of solitude and social withdrawal and critically evaluate these approaches and their contribution to a comprehensive scientific understanding
  • 2. Explain underlying psychological processes driving social withdrawal and solitude experiences at different levels of analysis (e.g. situational, temporal, individual, cultural, societal)
  • 3. Analyse and interpret published empirical research, interdisciplinary works, and personal behavioural data to present theoretical arguments concerning the causes and consequences of solitude and social withdrawal

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Acquire detailed, systematic, and comprehensive knowledge within the discipline, with in-depth specialisation at the forefront of the discipline in certain areas and demonstrate advanced critical understanding of this knowledge and of the limits and provisional nature of this knowledge
  • 5. Review and critically evaluate published research, identify its strengths and weaknesses, and synthesise this literature to present logical, coherent, and sustained arguments to support conclusions at an advanced level
  • 6. Present research, analysis, and arguments thoroughly and confidently in oral and written form, and engage thoughtfully and constructively with othersÂ’ presentations and arguments
  • 7. Develop research design and data analytic skills by studying own behaviour and experiences, engaging in critical reflexivity as both the researcher and the object of study
  • 8. Address systematically complex problems which may be framed within unpredictable contexts, think critically, creatively, and independently, and fully appreciate the complexities of the issues at an advanced level

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Interact effectively within small project groups, support each other in the learning process, and develop your group project management skills
  • 10. Select and use a wide range of learning resources, including library and IT resources, to manage your learning and to undertake assignments with minimal guidance
  • 11. Work and think independently, and manage time effectively to meet deadlines
  • 12. Produce detailed, well-structured, and coherent written work
  • 13. Develop your presentation skills and communicate ideas effectively orally and visually
  • 14. Engage effectively in class discussion and peer review, and evaluate othersÂ’ work in a consistent, constructive, and professional manner
  • 15. Identify complex problems and apply appropriate knowledge and methods flexibly for their solution
  • 16. Describe your own criteria of self-evaluation, reflect on your actions, and seek and make use of feedback

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Why study solitude? How can we study this phenomenon? (e.g. experimental, observational, contemplative, biobehavioural approaches)
  • Solitude in childhood and adolescence (shyness, unsociability, privacy, developmental needs)
  • Solitude in adulthood and old age (life transitions, self-determination, goal pursuit)
  • Adaptive and maladaptive aspects of solitude and social withdrawal, protective factors and risk factors
  • Physiological correlates of solitude and social isolation, long-term health and wellbeing consequences
  • Pathological patterns of social withdrawal (e.g. social anxiety, social anhedonia)
  • Cultural factors in solitude-seeking and loneliness (cultural norms, cultural-bound syndromes)
  • Solitude and isolation in the modern era (e.g. digital communication, urbanisation, pandemics)

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching33Seminars (11 x 2 hours), class discussion sessions (11 x 1 hour)
Guided independent study60Reading in preparation for weekly seminars, discussion sessions, and written exam, following recommendations on reading list and on ELE module homepage, and independently exploring further sources of information using links provided.
Guided independent study27Further exploratory research, reading, and group work in preparation for group presentation.
Guided independent study30Self-tracking and assessment activity, further exploratory research and reading for individual essay, essay preparation and revision.


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Engagement in class discussions and learning activities11 x 1 hour (in synchronous discussion sessions)AllInformal oral comments and discussion
Completion of peer feedback assessments30-45 minutes (online throughout the term)AllWritten feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination502 hoursAllGeneric feedback via module ELE page
Essay402000 wordsAllWritten, individual feedback on script, generic feedback via ELE
Group oral presentation of specific topics1020 minute presentation, 10 minute class discussionAllWritten individual and group feedback, peer evaluation, generic feedback posted on ELE


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExaminationAllAugust Ref/Def
EssayEssayAllAugust Ref/Def
Group oral presentationGroup/individual presentationAllAugust Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Three assessments are required for this module. Where you have been referred/deferred in the examination you will have the opportunity to take a second examination in the August/September re-assessment period. For a deferred group oral presentation, reassessment will be by arrangement with the module convenor. For a referred presentation, reassessment shall be by individual oral presentation in the August Ref/Def period. Where you have been referred/deferred in the coursework you will be required to resubmit the coursework. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%; deferred marks are not capped.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Most of the research discussed will be drawn from journal articles and book chapters. Sample readings:

  • 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.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Psychology, solitude, social withdrawal, loneliness

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date