Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Personal and Situational Determinants of Relationship-Specific Perceptions of Social Support

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Personal and Situational Determinants of Relationship-Specific Perceptions of Social Support

Article excerpt

This study explores personal (self-esteem, perceived stress, and depressive mood) and situational (undesirable life events) variables as determinants of relationship-specific perceptions of social support. Structural equation analyses from two-wave panel data (N = 583) of adult participants from a community-based urban sample revealed that, after controlling for initial levels of perceived social support, psychological characteristics (high levels of stress and depression, and low levels of self-esteem) and situational determinants (number of undesirable life events) were both negatively related to perceived social support from specific significant relationships over time. Multigroup analyses revealed that these processes generalized across groups of gender, income, and marital status (single vs. married). Implications of these findings are discussed.

Keywords: perceived social support, relationship-specific, self-esteem, depressive mood, perceived stress, undesirable life events.

Social support research tradition has focused primarily on the protective function of social support against the negative effects of stressful life events and/or on the positive effects of social support on psychological well-being (see reviews by Cohen & Wills, 1985; Henderson, 1992; House, Umberson & Landis, 1988; Lin & Peek, 1999; Schwarzer & Leppin, 1992; Turner & Turner, 1999). Social support, however measured, has been analyzed mostly as an independent or moderating variable that may affect psychological well-being or the relationship between stress and well-being (House et al.). However, social support has received less attention as a dependent variable.

Over 15 years ago, House et al. (1988), in an influential review, claimed that research on the effects of social relationships on health had paid almost no attention to social integration, networks or supports as dependent variables. For House "the determinants of these, as well as their consequences, are crucial to understanding the theoretical and causal status of social relationships in relation to health" (p. 308). Also, Newcomb (1990a) considered that determining the relationship between social support and psychological functioning is equally as important as understanding how that support came to be available. More recently, Barrera (2000) noted that what had been a totally neglected area of research had finally received serious attention. As Barrera put it, if research shows that qualitative measures of social support such as satisfaction and perceived availability have a stronger correlation with psychological adjustment than do other measures (e.g., Barrera, 1986; Cohen & Wills, 1985; Cutrona, 1986), the question is obvious: "What are the determinants of perceived support?" (p. 226).

Approaching this question leads inevitably to the debate about the nature of perceived social support: Does social support reflect primarily a characteristic of the perceiver or is it the result of environmental or situational influences (Barrera, 2000; Pierce, Lakey, Sarason, Sarason, & Joseph, 1997)? So far, the weight of the argument lies on the side of personal correlates of social support, with a substantial number of studies finding associations between social support and a wide array of personal characteristics such as extraversion, neuroticism, selfesteem, trait anxiety, locus of control, hardiness, or network orientation (see Pierce et al., 1997, for a review). In contrast, research on situational and environmental correlates of social support has been somewhat more scant (Barrera, 2000). Nonetheless, for Pierce et al., constructs such as perceived support represent the blending of personal and situational constructs. For these authors, the field needs to develop more complex models that seek to account for both personal and environmental influences. Similarly, Vaux (1990) proposed that support processes take place within a social ecology and are shaped by characteristics of the person (e. …

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