Social Support Dynamics in
Adjustment to Disasters
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Fran H. Norris
Georgia State University
Although systematic research on social support is relatively recent, the idea that morale and well-being are partly sustained through primary group ties has appeared in almost every psychological and sociological theory or doctrine. Across the years, since the original conceptualizations by Cassel (1976), Cobb (1976), and Weiss (1974), social support has been defined in a variety of ways. Most often it is referred to as those social interactions that provide individuals with actual assistance and embed them into a web of social relationships perceived to be loving, caring, and readily available in times of need (see Barrera, 1986; Hobfoll & Stokes, 1988; Sarason, Sarason, & Pierce, 1992). This general definition points to three major facets of social support: received support (actual receipt of help), social embeddedness (quantity and type of relationships with others), and perceived support (the belief that help would be available if needed).
The role of social support as a coping resource has been studied within the context of many stressful life events ranging from individual level stressors (e.g., bereavement, pregnancy, divorce, or illness) to community-wide events (e.g., crowding, unemployment, disaster, or war). Reviews of literature often note the limitations of