Solitude and Identity Lab

My research lab at Middlebury College examines the inner lives of individuals. We are interested in understanding and describing the introspective and emotional processes that take place when people are alone with themselves. Research in this lab is theory-driven with an aim toward generating tools, skills, and practices that people can use in their everyday lives to increase their self-understanding and well-being. We take a mixed-methods approach to most of our research: conducting in-depth interviews and analyzing them with a variety of qualitative methods, and utilizing quantitative statistical analyses for survey and experimental data.

Solitude Research

How do we balance the need to be alone with the need to be with others? As social creatures, why are some of us motivated to spend time alone, and what are the benefits of solitude? How do factors like personality, attachment style, age, gender, or mental health influence our capacity to be alone? What about social media’s effects on the quality of our alone time? These are the types of questions my lab investigates.

  • Solitude is paradoxical, because it offers both positive and negative possibilities, from freedom and self-reflection to loneliness and rumination.
  • However, research has shown that being alone is positive, and not lonely, when that solitude is chosen and self-determined.
  • While people of all ages express ambivalence about the costs and benefits of digital devices, we’ve found that for young people, social media appears to be a way to cope with unwanted solitude, but those who enjoy being truly alone without their devices are better psychologically adjusted.
  • Contrary to fears about loneliness in old age, we discovered that older adults who enjoy solitude are just as psychologically healthy as those who prefer being sociable, and in fact enjoy greater levels of psychological richness, a trait associated with personal growth and a rich inner life.
  • I’ve also identified the skills that adults use to benefit from time alone and am currently investigating whether those skills can be taught to people of different ages and backgrounds.

Identity Research

How do individuals make meaning out of their experiences, and how does that shape their personal identity? How do we navigate our multiple identities, especially in a world that evaluates us based on social categories?

  • Our research has found that for college students, social class identity affects their everyday experiences more than gender or race and ethnicity.
  • A colleague and I explored the religious identities of young adults in a radical religious sect, examining their cognitive and emotional processes during a crisis moment.
  • I continue to think about the intersectionality of our identities, where our social locations on categories like gender, class, age, sexuality, ethnicity, and more determine how we interpret our experiences and influence how others treat us.
  • Currently I am collaborating with an international team of scholars who are investigating the identity processes that occur when individuals study, work, or live abroad.

Embracing Solitude

Embracing Solitude is an enrichment program that was developed as a way to examine how learning solitude skills can improve our emotional health and well-being by strengthening the capacity to be alone. Whether you take the journey with a group or choose the self-guided option, along the way you’ll discover eight solitude skills, encounter three solitude milestones, and learn science-backed practices, resources, and perspectives that will support you on a path of self-care and self-discovery.

meet our lab members

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