Social withdrawal & Social relationships

September 2017 – Autumn 2021

University Medical Center Groningen, Interdisciplinary Center Psychopathology & Emotion Regulation

My PhD research focuses on social withdrawal and social relationships throughout adolescence and early adulthood from a developmental perspective. I investigate how withdrawing from others influences peer and romantic relationships, and which aspects of these relationships can affect and change youth’s withdrawal over time. I am using seven waves of data from the large, population-based Tracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey (TRAILS) cohort.

Team: prof. Dr. Tineke J. Oldehinkel, prof. Dr. Wim H. J. Meeus, & Dr. Jennifer S. Richards

Social withdrawal during adolescence and early adulthood is particularly problematic due to the increasing importance of social interactions during these ages. Yet little is known about the changes, trajectories, or correlates of being withdrawn during this transition to adulthood. The purpose of this study was to examine the normative change and distinct trajectories of withdrawal in order to identify adolescents and early adults at greatest risk for maladjustment. Participants were from a Dutch population-based cohort study (Tracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey), including 1,917 adolescents who were assessed at four waves from the age of 16 to 25 years. Five items from the Youth Self Report and Adult Self Report were found to be measurement invariant and used to assess longitudinal changes in social withdrawal. Overall, participants followed a U-shaped trajectory of social withdrawal, where withdrawal decreased from ages 16 to 19 years, remained stable from 19 to 22 years, and increased from 22 to 25 years. Furthermore, three distinct trajectory classes of withdrawal emerged: a low-stable group (71.8%), a high-decreasing group (12.0%), and a low-curvilinear group (16.2%). The three classes differed on: shyness, social affiliation, reduced social contact, anxiety, and antisocial behaviors. The high-decreasing group endorsed the highest social maladjustment, followed by the low-curvilinear group, and the low-stable group was highly adjusted. We discuss the potential contribution of the changing social network in influencing withdrawal levels, the distinct characteristics of each trajectory group, and future directions in the study of social withdrawal in adolescence and early adulthood.

2018 – 7th International meeting of the Scientific Research Network: A Multiple Levels of Analysis Approach to Typical and Atypical Development, Leuven, Belgium, Poster Presentation

Social withdrawal and social anxiety are believed to have a bidirectional influence on one another, but it is unknown if their relationship is bidirectional, especially within person, and if peer experiences influence this relationship. We investigated temporal sequencing and the strength of effects between social withdrawal and social anxiety, and the roles of peer victimization and acceptance in the pathways. Participants were 2,772 adolescents from the population-based and clinically referred cohorts of the Tracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey. Self- and parent-reported withdrawal, and self-reported social anxiety, peer victimization, and perceived peer acceptance were assessed at 11, 13, and 16 years. Random-intercept cross-lagged panel models were used to investigate within-person associations between these variables. There was no feedback loop between withdrawal and social anxiety. Social withdrawal did not predict social anxiety at any age. Social anxiety at 11 years predicted increased self-reported withdrawal at 13 years. Negative peer experiences predicted increased self- and parent-reported withdrawal at 13 years and increased parent-reported withdrawal at 16 years. In turn, self-reported withdrawal at 13 years predicted negative peer experiences at 16 years. In conclusion, adolescents became more withdrawn when they became more socially anxious or experienced greater peer problems, and increasing withdrawal predicted greater victimization and lower acceptance.

2019 – 19th European Conference on Developmental Psychology (ECDP), Athens, Greece, Poster Presentation*

*Awarded Best Poster Award, 1st place

Quality over quantity: A transactional model of social withdrawal and friendship development in late adolescence

Barzeva, S. A., Richards, S. J., Veenstra, R., Meeus, W. H. J., & Oldehinkel, A. J. (under revision). Quality over quantity: A transactional model of social withdrawal and friendship development in late adolescence.

Pre-registration and Scripts

The aim of this study was to test a longitudinal, transactional model that describes how social withdrawal and friendship development are interrelated in late adolescence, and to investigate if post-secondary transitions are catalysts of change for highly withdrawn adolescents’ friendships. Unilateral friendship data of 1,019 adolescents (61.3% female, 91% Dutch-origin) from the Tracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey (TRAILS) cohort were collected five times from ages 17 to 18 years. Social withdrawal was assessed at 16 and 19 years. The transactional model was tested within a Structural Equation Modeling framework, with intercepts and slopes of friendship quantity, quality, and stability as mediators and residential transitions, education transitions, and sex as moderators. The results confirmed the presence of a transactional relation between withdrawal and friendship quality. Whereas higher age 16 withdrawal predicted having fewer, lower-quality, and less-stable friendships, only having lower-quality friendships, in turn, predicted higher age 19 withdrawal, especially in girls. Residential transitions were catalysts of change for highly withdrawn youth’s number of friends: higher withdrawal predicted a moderate increase in number of friends for adolescents who relocated, and no change for those who made an educational transition or did not transition. Taken together, these results indicate that the quality of friendships—over and above number of friends and the stability of those friendships—is particularly important for entrenching or diminishing withdrawal in late adolescence, and that relocating provides an opportunity for withdrawn late adolescents to expand their friendship networks.

2020 – 17th European Association for Research on Adolescence (EARA), Porto, Portugal, Digital Oral Presentation

Romantic relationships and social withdrawal: A longitudinal study from adolescence to adulthood

Barzeva, S. A., Richards, S. J., Meeus, W. H. J., & Oldehinkel, A. J. (under revision). Romantic relationships and social withdrawal: A longitudinal study from adolescence to adulthood.

Pre-registration and Scripts

Involvement in romantic relationships is a salient developmental task in late adolescence and early adulthood, and deviations from normative romantic development are linked to adverse outcomes. This study investigated to what extent social withdrawal contributed to deviations from normative romantic development, and vice versa, and the interplay between withdrawal and couples’ relationship perceptions. The sample included 1710 young adults (55–61% female) from the Tracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey cohort and their romantic partners. Data were collected across 4 waves, covering romantic relationships from ages 17 to 29 years. The results showed that higher withdrawal predicted a higher likelihood of romantic non-involvement by adulthood, consistently being single at subsequent waves, and entering one’s first relationship when older. Withdrawal moderately decreased when youth entered their first relationship. Male’s withdrawal in particular affected romantic relationship qualities and dynamics. These results provide new insights into the developmental sequelae of withdrawn young adults’ romantic relationship development.

To be presented in 2021 – Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Biannual Meeting, USA, Interactive Digital Poster