Dr Lambros Lazuras is an Associate Professor of Social Psychology with an interest in self-regulation and emotion regulation, decision-making and mental health. His research has primarily focused on substance use and health outcomes across the lifespan. Over the last years he is actively involved in research on the effects of self-disgust on mental health and quality of life, and used a wide range of research methods to examine these associations, spanning interviews and structured questionnaires, and lab-based computerized tasks (e.g., dot-probe) and eye tracking technology.
Self-disgust in older adults: Relationships with loneliness and mental health outcomes
Self-disgust is a self-conscious emotion characterized by the tendency to experience disgust directed to the self. Recent studies have evidenced a significant and causal association between self-disgust and mental health disorders, including depression. Nevertheless, no studies have addressed the experience of self-disgust in older adults, or whether self-disgust is associated with mental health symptoms in this population. In this paper, we report the findings from two studies that examined self-disgust in older adults. Study 1 compared the experience of self-disgust between older and younger adults, and examined the association between loneliness and self-disgust in each group. Study 2 assessed the relationship between loneliness, self-disgust, and depressive symptoms in older adults.
In study 1, 80 older adults (M age = 68.81years, SD = 11.43) and 164 younger adults (M age = 19.98 years, SD = 1.69; 79.8 females) completed anonymous questionnaires about loneliness (UCLA Loneliness Scale; Russel, 1996; Russel et al., 1980) and self-disgust (Self-Disgust Scale; Overton et al., 2008). In study 2, a sub-sample of 24 older adults (M age = 60.79 years, SD = 5.68) from a larger study completed anonymous questionnaires about loneliness (UCLA Loneliness Scale; Russel et al., 1980), self-disgust (Self-Disgust Scale; Overton et al., 2008), and depression (Beck’s Depression Inventory; Beck et al., 1961).
In study 1, older participants reported significantly lower scores in self-disgust compared to younger adults (F = 40.04, p < .001). Also, linear regression analyses showed that loneliness was significantly associated with self-disgust in both older (R2 = 18.1%, F = 5.60, p = .002) and younger adults (R2 = 39%, F = 33.95, p < .001). In study 2, bootstrapped partial correlation analysis (1000 resamples with 95% bias-corrected and accelerated confidence intervals) showed that self-disgust was significantly associated with depressive symptoms (r = 0.62, p = .002, 95% BCa CI = 0.16 - 0.84), but this correlation turned non-significant when loneliness was controlled for.
This is the first study to report the association between self-disgust and mental health outcomes in older adults. The findings from the two studies showed that self-disgust was lower in older than younger adults, and significantly associated with loneliness scores in both age groups. Furthermore, self-disgust was associated with depressive symptoms in older adults but this association is partly explained by higher loneliness scores in this age group. Our findings have implications for the role of self-disgust in mental well-being and quality of life in older adults.