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Social Support TAT: Theory, Applications, and Technology
Abstracts last update: 12 March 2015
Good relationships are good for people, and bad relationships or a lack of relationships are incompatible with good health and happiness. One challenge for relationship research, therefore, is the question how do we maintain good relationships. Answering this question becomes even more important, when we consider that relationships do not exist in a vacuum, but in an ever-changing social and environmental context. This context, in turn, is affected by relationship processes. So, the big question is how we, changing, maintain a happy relationship with a person who is changing too? Rather than focusing on change and the constant state of flux in relationships, I argue that the answer lies in identifying factors and processes that are remarkably stable across relationships and resistant to change. I will propose such factors at the individual and relationship level that allow people to maintain happy relationships despite and owing to change.
The kinds of support people give and receive depend on the type of sociality in which the support occurs. Different kinds of support may be experienced differently, and affect health in different ways, although these differences have not yet been explored. We can classify kinds of support in the framework of relational models theory. In communal sharing (CS) relationships participants feel equivalent; they coordinate with reference to a sense of unity, common identity, compassion and kindness. Hence people experience CS social support as non-contingent: people simply give whatever is needed, so far as they are able, without expecting anything specific in return. The support feels compassionate or loving. In authority ranking (AR) relationships, participants are ranked, such that superiors are entitled to precedence and prerogatives, while subordinates must give respect, deference, and sometimes obedience. People expect AR superiors to support their subordinates by leading, guiding, advising, standing-up for, looking-out for, and protecting them. The support feels protective, making one feel safe. Conversely, AR subordinates should support their superiors by loyally backing them up and following where their superiors lead. Followers support their leaders by standing behind them. In equality matching (EM) relationships participants keep track of additive differences between them, with even balance as the reference point: they take turns, reciprocate in kind, or allocate opportunities or obligations through fair lotteries. Hence EM social support means each participant receiving the same thing as everyone else, contributing the same thing, and/or giving exactly what others have given or will give them. In market pricing (MP) relationships, participants coordinate with reference to a socially defined ratio, rate, or proportion such as efficiency, costs and benefits, utilities, prices, rents, or interest rates. People perceive MP social support as a return for wages, or it or as structured by bureaucratic or economic standards of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. One gets the support one pays for. Violation of any of these relational models, as well as friction and distress in any of them, are likely to make participants ill, or sicker and less likely to recover if they are already ill.
Technology mediates each different relational model in distinct ways, differentially affording or inhibiting the giving or the experience of social support. For example, telephone calls, letters, e-mails, texts, or photos, songs and videos shared over the Internet can easily ‘move’ people so they are ‘touched’ or ‘heart-warmed’ by the intensified CS relationship. This emotional experience makes people feel connected and loved.
Early in life caregivers play an essential role in behavioral and neural development and provide widespread regulatory influences including physiological and emotional regulation for infants and children. Mature frontoamygdala connections provide regulation of affect in healthy adulthood; however, this neural circuitry is late to develop. Thus, we hypothesized that parents may buffer against emotional reactivity via modulation of amygdala-prefrontal circuitry prior to the maturation of this system in childhood. In a series of studies we examined the typical developmental course of amgydala-prefrontal circuitry across childhood and adolescence, neurobiological mechanisms of parental regulation, and how these processes change in the absence of stable parent-child relationships. Our findings suggest that children are able to recruit more mature patterns of frontoamygdala connectivity when in the presence of parent-related stimuli, which are associated with lower amygdala reactivity and improved regulation. Specifically, parental effects on amygdala-prefrontal circuitry were associated with parental buffering effects on behavior, such that affect-related regulation during an emotional face go/nogo was improved when children were in the presence of their parent. Individual differences emerged such that greater parental influence on amygdala-prefrontal circuitry was associated with lower separation anxiety, more secure attachment, and more modulation of behavior by the parent in daily life. Severe parental deprivation early in life was associated with altered development of amygdala-prefrontal circuitry, which may serve as an adaptation to this form of early-life stress. Taken together, the present findings suggest a neural mechanism through which parents modulate children’s regulatory behavior by inducing a mature pattern of frontoamygdala connectivity and buffering against heightened amygdala reactivity. Parental buffering in childhood, but not adolescence, suggests that childhood may be a sensitive period for parental influences on amygdala-prefrontal development.
A number of personality traits – such as low self-esteem, high neuroticism, high thought suppression, and high alexithymia- appear to reflect latent vulnerabilities, in that these traits are consistently predictive of poor mental health. However, not all people with vulnerable personality traits display poor mental health, suggesting that there might be moderating variables that determine whether these people’s latent vulnerability becomes translated into overt psychological complaints. In our research, we examined whether loneliness is one such moderating variable. Because people have an innate need for social connections with others (Baumeister & Leary, 1995), we suggest that loneliness is a critical circumstance that leads to deteriorations in mental health among people with vulnerable personality traits. I will present five studies, including three cross-sectional studies, one longitudinal study, and one experimental study, that support this line of reasoning. Taken together, these findings suggest that loneliness is a catalyst for the development of mental health problems among people with latent vulnerabilities in their personality functioning.
In this contribution, I will discuss evidence that close relationships do not only have a sunny, socially supporting side but also a dark side: over time the exploitation hazard increases. I will analyze the two faces of close relationships with the help of a theory on the dynamics of overarching goals (goal-framing theory) and investigate the possibility that the sunny and dark sides of close relationships are systematically interrelated. An important conclusion from this analysis is that we should not just look at close relationships in isolation. In order to have the dyadic social support side dominate, close relationships need to be embedded in wider supportive social structures.
Past research showed that receiving social support in a face-to-face setting is an efficient way to reduce stress (e.g., Reynolds & Perrin, 2004; Rini, Schetter, Hobel, Glynn, & Sandman, 2006; Thorsteinsson, & James, 1999; Uchino, 2006). We conducted three studies to detect whether stress level is affected differently when social support is received via different means of communication (i.e., face-to-face, phone call, or text-messaging). In two online studies, we used self-report measures to assess how receiving support via different means of communication affected stress-level. In the third study – a laboratory experiment – participants were divided into four conditions (i.e., no support, support face-to face, support via phone call, or support via text messaging) and performed a stress-inducing task. Results generally indicated that the effectiveness of social support depends more on the quality of the support and the relationship with the support provider, than on the type of communication used.
The inextricable policy agendas that aim to support economic development as well as the solving of problems of an aging society has led to industry driven development of solutions without a clear analysis of the problems to solve. This means a lot of technology is being developed that does what technologies are good at: transferring numbers (the I in ICT). Often this leads to more intense professional interference rather than to more self-management. In our ethnographic studies, however, we found that ICTs for people with chronic disease were used as means of creating relations between people, but also with technologies (the C in ICT). In this presentation I will discuss 1) possibilities for using ICT to develop caring communities, and 2) the typical ways in which people relate to technology in affective ways.
In a perfect world, people in close relationships would always have their interests in harmony: what is most desired by one partner is also most desired by the other. In the imperfect reality of relationships, however, relationship partners often face situations in which there is a divergence of interests, what is good for one partner is not good for the other. In these situations, people need to make a decision between pursuing self-interest and sacrificing. We conducted an experience sampling study among romantic couples to examine which situations of divergence of interests couple encounter more frequently in their daily life and what are the consequences of encountering such situations for personal and relationship well-being. Furthermore, we examined the role of empathy in confronting such situations. We show that, although empathy usually promotes relationship functioning, empathy also intensifies the negative experience of encountering situations of divergence of interests with one’s partner and might not be beneficial in these circumstances.
My talk focuses on the behavioral consequences of moving music (i.e., music that evokes chills, teary eyes, and a lump in one’s throat) in advertising. In three experiments we found that moving music in advertisements increased transportation (i.e., being “lost” in the ad’s story) and several behavioral intentions, for example to forward the ad to one’s social network. Moving music also decreased inferences of manipulative intent by the advertiser. Interestingly, moving music was more effective in ads promoting a non-profit organization (e.g., children’s rights organization) than a for-profit organization (e.g., pharmaceutical company). This finding complements recent findings that the emotion of being moved increases pro-social action. Practical and theoretical implications will be discussed.
According to Darwin (1872), emotional tears serve no functions. Currently we challenge this view and propose that emotional tears may have both intra-personal and inter-personal functions. In the current contribution, the focus will be on the interpersonal functions of tears. What messages do emotional tears convey and how do others respond to tears? We formulated a preliminary model depicting all relevant possible relevant factors and we conducted a first series of studies, which we will report on.