Stress-Amplifying Effects of Negative Social Exchanges among Female Japanese College Students

Article excerpt

Researchers have found evidence for the contribution of social exchanges to health and well-being. For example, the role of positive social exchanges such as social support has been widely studied (Cantor, 1979; Eckenrode & Hamilton, 2000). Proponents of the stress-buffering effect of social support maintain that support received by an individual from social networks when under stress may intervene between stressors and health by attenuating the individual's stress appraisal response (Cohen & Wills, 1985; House, 1981).

However, taking the perspective that social networks provide an exclusively supportive function, ignores the aspects of relationships that impose a cost, rather than a benefit, on individuals' well-being. Since Rook (1984) pointed out that people in an individual's social networks can be critical and overbearing, several researchers have investigated the effects of negative social exchanges (hereafter called negative exchanges) on individuals' depressive symptoms (Okun & Keith, 1998) and physical health (Edwards, Hershberger, Russell, & Markert, 2001). It has also been argued that negative exchanges may exert a greater effect on individuals' mental health than do positive exchanges (Finch, Okun, Pool, & Ruehlman, 1999; Okun & Keith, 1998).

Although researchers have shown that negative exchanges operate directly to decrease mental health symptoms, less attention has been paid to examining the stress-amplifying effects of negative exchanges, that is, the effects that exacerbate the negative association of stressors with well-being (Shinn, Lehman, & Wong, 1984; Siegel, Raveis, & Karus, 1997). For example, people appear to harbor negative feelings about individuals who are distressed, and to be critical of them for allowing the distressing event to occur in the first place (Krause & Jay, 1991). Social interactions of this kind cause additional stress and, accordingly, result in a worse situation for the individual's mental health.

Adequate empirical support has not been provided in studies concerning the stress-amplifying effects of negative exchanges. Okun, Melichar, and Hill (1990) found that the association between the number of daily negative events and psychological distress was not amplified by negative social exchanges. On the other hand, Vinokur, Price, and Caplan (1996) observed that the financial strain experienced by unemployed persons increased their depressive symptoms by increasing negative exchanges with their partners.

The reason for these inconsistent findings may be, in part, because of the way researchers have conceptualized stressors. Okun et al. (1990) estimated participants' stress levels simply by counting the number of experienced life events. This method is problematic because it is difficult to determine whether the deleterious effects of stress involve a wide range or a few types of events (Krause, 1986). For example, a wife may be critical of her diabetic husband for not following an appropriate diet, because she wants him to engage in beneficial health behaviors (Lewis & Rook, 1999). In this case, negative exchanges with a spouse may result in increasing, rather than decreasing, the well-being of the individual who is suffering from the stress of illness. On the other hand, the aggregation of life event indices would dilute the individual influence of each life event and also obscure the role of negative exchanges that should mediate the association between life event stress and mental health. This idea was illustrated by Vinokur et al. (1996), who found the effect of a specific life event (i.e., financial strain) on depressive symptoms was amplified by negative exchanges of unemployed people with their spouses. However, few empirical investigations of the stress-amplifying effect of negative exchanges in this manner have been conducted.

I have extended the findings recorded in the current literature by examining whether or not negative exchanges increase the effect of either aggregate measures of stressful life events or specific types of life event stressors on depressive symptoms. …