, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 381-406

The health-related functions of social support

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Abstract

Social support research has been hampered by a lack of clarity both in the definitions of social support and in the conceptualization of its effects on health outcomes. The present study compared social network size and three types of perceived social support—tangible, emotional, and informational —in relation to stressful life events, psychological symptoms and morale, and physical health status in a sample of 100 persons 45–64 years old. Social network size was empirically separable from, though correlated with, perceived social support and had a weaker overall relationship to outcomes than did support. Low tangible support and emotional support, in addition to certain life events, were independently related to depression and negative morale; informational support was associated with positive morale. Neither social support nor stressful life events were associated with physical health. It was concluded that social support research would benefit from attention to the multidimensionality of support and greater specificity in hypotheses about the relationship between types of support and adaptational outcomes.

Writing of this paper was supported in part by National Institute on Aging Research Grant AG 00799 and Public Health Service Training Grant MH 13561.