Drawing on recent neuroscience research, Gilbert (2005, 2009a) suggested that vulnerability and psychopathology could be conceptualized and treated using a tripartite model of affect regulation which postulates three evolved systems oriented toward threats, resources, and affiliation, and respectively triggering negative affect (NA), activated positive affect (PA), and social safeness. He additionally proposed that social safeness, characterized by feelings of warmth and connectedness, plays an especially important role in psychosocial functioning. We tested various aspects of this theory through a 7-day daily diary study in which 51 male and 51 female students completed measures of social safeness, NA, PA, perceived social support (PSS), and received social support (RSS) every evening. First, social safeness emerged as operationally distinct from low NA, PA, and PSS. Second, participants who endorsed higher mean levels of RSS over the week had higher mean levels of safeness, and social safeness was higher on days when participants reported higher RSS than their mean. Third, social safeness was more strongly related to numerous indicators of vulnerability and psychopathology than NA, PA, and PSS, and it predicted these variables controlling for NA, PA, and PSS. Results support the theory that social safeness is a distinct affective experience that responds to affiliation and offers unique protection from psychosocial suffering.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
The complete results from the hierarchical regressions are available from the authors.
Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226–244.
Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.
Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Brown, B. K. (1996). Beck depression inventory manual (2nd ed.). San Antonio: Psychological Corporation.
Blatt, S. J. (2004). Experiences of depression: Theoretical, clinical and research perspectives. Washington: American Psychological Association.
Blatt, S. J., d’Afflitti, J. P., & Quinlan, D. M. (1976). Experiences of depression in normal young adults. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 85, 383–389.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss (Vol. 1). New York: Basic Books.
Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: Retrospect and prospect. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 52, 664–678.
Carter, C. S. (1998). Neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment and love. Psychoneuroendorinlogy, 23, 779–818.
Cozolino, L. (2007). The neuroscience of human relationships: Attachment and the developing brain. New York: Norton.
Cranford, J. A., Shrout, P. E., Iida, M., Rafaeli, E., Yip, T., & Bolger, N. (2006). A procedure for evaluating sensitivity to within-person change: Can mood measures in diary studies detect change reliably? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 917–929.
Cutrona, C. E., & Russell, D. (1987). The provisions of social relationships and adaptation to stress. In W. H. Jones & D. Perlman (Eds.), Advances in personal relationships (Vol. 1, pp. 37–67). Greenwich: JAI Press, Conn.
Depue, R., & Collins, P. (1999). Neurobiology of the structure of personality: Dopamine, facilitation of incentive motivation, and extraversion. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22, 491–569.
Depue, R. A., & Morrone-Strupinsky, J. V. (2005). A neurobehavioral model of affiliative bonding: implications for conceptualizing a human trait of affiliation. Behavioral Brain Science, 28(3), 313–350.
Dunkley, D. M., Blankstein, K. R., Halsall, J., Williams, M., & Winkworth, G. (2000). The relation between perfectionism and distress: Hassles, coping, and perceived social support as mediators and moderators. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 47, 437–453.
Feldman, L. A. (1995). Valence focus and arousal focus: Individual differences in the structure of affective experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 153–166.
First, M. B., Gibbon, M., Spitzer, R. L., Williams, J. B. W., & Benjamin, L. S. (1997). SCID-II personality questionnaire. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
Fleming, J. S., & Courtney, B. E. (1984). The dimensionality of self-esteem: II. Hierarchical facet model for revised measurement scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 404–421.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2003). The value of positive emotions. American Scientist, 91, 330–335.
Gilbert, P. (2005). Compassion and cruelty: A biopsychosocial approach. In P. Gilbert (Ed.), Compassion: Conceptualisations, research, and use in psychotherapy (pp. 1–74). London: Routledge.
Gilbert, P. (2007). Psychotherapy and counselling for depression (3rd ed.). London: SAGE Publications.
Gilbert, P. (2009a). The compassionate mind: Coping with the challenges of living. London: Constable Robinson.
Gilbert, P. (2009b). Moving beyond cognitive behaviour therapy. The Psychologist, 22, 400–403.
Gilbert, P. (2010). Compassion focused therapy: Distinctive features. London: Routledge.
Gilbert, P., McEwan, K., Mitra, R., Franks, L., Richter, A., & Rockliff, H. (2008). Feeling safe and content: A specific affect regulation system? Relationship to depression, anxiety, stress, and self-criticism. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 3, 182–191.
Gilbert, P., McEwan, K., Mitra, R., Richter, A., Franks, L., Mills, A., et al. (2009). An exploration of different types of positive affect in students and in patients with bipolar disorder. Clinical Neuropsychiatry, 6, 135–143.
Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: Strong effects of simple plans. American Psychologist, 54, 493–503.
Gotlib, I. H., & Cane, D. B. (1989). Self-report assessment of depression and anxiety. In P. C. Kendall & D. Watson (Eds.), Anxiety and depression: Distinctive and overlapping features (pp. 131–169). San Diego: Academic.
Griffin, D. W., & Bartholomew, K. (1994). Models of the self and other: Fundamental dimensions underlying measures of adult attachment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 430–445.
Izard, C. E. (1993). Four systems for emotion activation: Cognitive and noncognitive processes. Psychological Review, 100, 68–90.
Koestner, R., Lekes, N., Powers, T. A., & Chicoine, E. (2002). Attaining personal goals: Self-concordance plus implementation intentions equal success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(1), 231–244.
Larsen, R. J., & Diener, E. (1992). Promises and problems with the circumplex model of emotion. Review of Personality and Social Psychology, 13, 25–59.
LeDoux, J. (1998). The Emotional Brain. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Linehan, M. M. (1993). Skills training manual for treating borderline personality disorder. New York: Guilford Press.
Liotti, G. (2000). Disorganized attachment, models of borderline states, and evolutionary psychotherapy. In P. Gilbert, K. Bailey (Eds.), Genes on the couch: Essays in evolutionary psychotherapy. Hove: Psychology Press.
Liotti, G., & Gilbert, P. (2011). Mentalizing, motivation, and social mentalities: Theoretical considerations and implications for psychotherapy. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 84, 9–25.
Lorr, M., & Wunderlich, R. A. (1986). Two objective measures of self-esteem. Journal of Personality Assessment, 50, 18–23.
Mongrain, M. (1998). Parental representations and support-seeking behaviour related to dependency and self-criticism. Journal of Personality, 66, 151–173.
Panksepp, J. (1998). Affective neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Pierce, G. R., Sarason, I. G., & Sarason, B. R. (1991). General and relationship-based perceptions of social support: Are two constructs better than one? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 1028–1039.
Porges, S. W. (2007). The polyvagal perspective. Biological Psychology, 74, 116–143.
Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-Image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Santor, D., Pringle, J. D., & Israeli, A. L. (2000). Enhancing and disrupting cooperative behavior in couples: Effects of dependency and self-criticism following favorable and unfavorable performance feedback. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 24, 379–397.
SAS Institute Inc. (2008). SAS/STAT ® 9.2 user’s guide. Cary, NC: SAS Institute Inc.
Shaw, B. F., Vallis, T. M., & McCabe, S. B. (1985). The assessment of the severity and symptom patterns in depression. In E. E. Beckham & W. R. Leber (Eds.), Handbook of depression: Treatment, assessment, and research (pp. 372–407). Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press.
Snijders, T. A. B., & Bosker, R. J. (1999). Multilevel analysis: An introduction to basic and advanced multilevel modeling. London: Sage Publications.
Sroufe, L. A., & Waters, E. (1977). Attachment as an organizational construct. Child Development, 48, 1184–1199.
Watson, D., & Clark, L. A. (1997). Extraversion and its positive emotional core. In R. Hogan, J. Johnson, & S. Briggs (Eds.), Handbook of personality psychology (pp. 767–793). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative Affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1063–1070.
Zimet, G. D., Dahlem, N. W., Zimet, S. G., & Farley, G. K. (1988). The Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support. Journal of Personality Assessment, 52, 30–41.
Zuroff, D. C., & Duncan, N. (1999). Self-criticism and conflict resolution in romantic couples. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 31, 137–149.
Zuroff, D. C., & Fitzpatrick, D. (1995). Depressive personality styles: Implications for adult attachment. Personality and Individual Differences, 18, 253–265.
Zuroff, D. C., & Mongrain, M. (1987). Dependency and self-criticism: Vulnerability factors for depressive affective states. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 96, 14–22.
Zuroff, D. C., Moskowitz, D. S., Wielgus, M. S., Powers, T. A., & Franko, D. L. (1983). Construct validation of the dependency and self-criticism scales of the Depressive Experiences Questionnaire. Journal of Research in Personality, 17, 226–241.
About this article
Cite this article
Kelly, A.C., Zuroff, D.C., Leybman, M.J. et al. Social Safeness, Received Social Support, and Maladjustment: Testing a Tripartite Model of Affect Regulation. Cogn Ther Res 36, 815–826 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-011-9432-5
- Social safeness
- Positive affect
- Negative affect
- Social support