Youth social withdrawal behavior (hikikomori): A systematic review of qualitative and quantitative studies (LI & WONG 2015)

Full text:  Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry


Objective: Acute and/or severe social withdrawal behavior among youth was seen as a culture-bound psychiatric syndrome in Japan, but more youth social withdrawal cases in different countries have been discovered recently. However, due to the lack of a formal definition and diagnostic tool for youth social withdrawal, cross-cultural observational and intervention studies are limited. We aimed to consolidate existing knowledge in order to understand youth social withdrawal from diverse perspectives and suggest different interventions for different trajectories of youth social withdrawal.

Method: This review examined the current available scientific information on youth social withdrawal in the academic databases: ProQuest, ScienceDirect, Web of Science and PubMed. We included quantitative and qualitative studies of socially withdrawn youths published in English and academic peer-reviewed journals.

Results: We synthesized the information into the following categories: (1) definitions of youth social withdrawal, (2) developmental theories, (3) factors associated with youth social withdrawal and (4) interventions for socially withdrawn youths. Accordingly, there are diverse and controversial definitions for youth social withdrawal. Studies of youth social withdrawal are based on models that lead to quite different conclusions. Researchers with an attachment perspective view youth social withdrawal as a negative phenomenon, whereas those who adopt Erikson’s developmental theory view it more positively as a process of seeking self-knowledge. Different interventions for socially withdrawn youths have been developed, mainly in Japan, but evidence-based practice is almost non-existent.

Conclusion: We propose a theoretical framework that views youth social withdrawal as resulting from the interplay between psychological, social and behavioral factors. Future validation of the framework will help drive forward advances in theory and interventions for youth social withdrawal as an emerging issue in developed countries.

Free access to T&F journals for those based in Japan


Throughout May 2015, Taylor & Francis are offering exclusive free online access to all of its journal content (over 1600 journals) to anyone based in Japan (free access will be available from May 1st until May 31st).

You just need a Taylor & Francis Online account and if you’re not already registered you can sign up for free.

My article “Adolescents’ School Non-Attendance and the Spread of Psychological Counselling in Japan” will be available and I would I also recommend Tuukka Toivonen’s article “‘Don’t let your child become a NEET!’ The strategic foundations of a Japanese youth scare