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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e44065. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044065. Epub 2012 Sep 11.

The mental representation of social connections: generalizability extended to Beijing adults.

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Department of Psychology & Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America.


Social connections are essential for the survival of a social species like humans. People differ in the degree to which they are sensitive to perceived deficits in their social connections, but evidence suggests that they nevertheless construe the nature of their social connections similarly. This construal can be thought of as a mental representation of a multi-faceted social experience. A three-dimensional mental representation has been identified with the UCLA Loneliness Scale and consists of Intimate, Relational, and Collective Connectedness reflecting beliefs about one's individual, dyadic, and collective (group) social value, respectively. Moreover, this mental representation has been replicated with other scales and validated across age, gender, and racial/ethnic lines in U.S. samples. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the extent to which this three-dimensional representation applies to people whose social lives are experienced in a collectivistic rather than individualistic culture. To that end, we used confirmatory factor analyses to assess the fit of the three-dimensional mental structure to data collected from Chinese people living in China. Two hundred sixty-seven young adults (16-25 yrs) and 250 older adults (50-65 yrs) in Beijing completed the revised UCLA Loneliness Scale and demographic and social activity questionnaires. Results revealed adequate fit of the structure to data from young and older Chinese adults. Moreover, the structure exhibited equivalent fit in young and older Chinese adults despite changes in the Chinese culture that exposed these two generations to different cultural experiences. Social activity variables that discriminated among the three dimensions in the Chinese samples corresponded well with variables that discriminated among the three dimensions in the U.S.-based samples, indicating cultural commonalities in the factors predicting dimensions of people's representations of their social connections. Equivalence of the three-dimensional structure is relevant for an understanding of cultural differences in the sources of loneliness and social connectedness.

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