Comforting Messages: Features, Functions, and Outcomes
Brant R. Burleson
During the last 10 years, considerable research has focused on the cognitive and motivational factors underlying the production of comforting behaviors, those actions directed at managing the emotional distress of others (e.g., Applegate, 1980; Applegate, Burke, Burleson, Delia, & Kline, 1985; Bar-Tal, Raviv, & Goldberg, 1982; Burleson, 1982, 1983a, 1984a; Eisenberg-Berg & Lennon, 1980; Samter & Burleson, 1984; Strayer, 1981; Yarrow & Waxler, 1976; ZahnWaxler , Iannotti, & Chapman, 1982). The aim of this research has been to (a) identify the types of knowledge needed to generate highly sophisticated, sensitive comforting strategies, and (b) understand how personality and situational factors affect the motivation to construct such strategies. This research has led to a better understanding of how demographic factors, social cognition, value orientations, and features of interpersonal relationships affect the use of sensitive comforting messages (for reviews, see Burleson, 1984b, 1985). It has also contributed to an improved understanding of message production processes in general (see Burleson, 1987).
Although a good deal of attention has been given to factors underlying the production of comforting messages, only recently have researchers begun to examine outcomes associated with the use of these messages. There is a certain irony in this because a primary motive for research on the production of comforting messages has been the belief that "sophisticated" comforting strategies do a better job of relieving distress than less-sophisticated strategies.
Clearly, identifying effective or successful comforting strategies would have both theoretical and practical import. Theoretically, understanding which mes-