September 4


Unlocking the Power of Connections: What is Social Support Theory

By Joshua Turner

September 4, 2023

Social support theory is a psychological concept that refers to the various assistance individuals receive from their interpersonal relationships. It includes emotional, tangible, informational, and companionship aid.

This theory is based on the idea that social support is critical in maintaining physical and mental health and quality of life. It can help individuals cope with stress, trauma, and other life challenges. It can come from different sources, such as family, friends, coworkers, and community members. It can also be provided in various forms, such as financial assistance, advice, encouragement, or simply spending time together.

Key Takeaways

  • Social support theory refers to the different guidance individuals receive from their social relationships.
  • The concept is critical for maintaining physical and mental health and quality of life.
  • It can come from different sources and be provided in various forms, and understanding these can help individuals cope with stress and improve their relationships.

Understanding Social Support


Emotional support refers to providing care, empathy, and concern for someone in need. It involves providing comfort, encouragement, and reassurance to help individuals cope with difficult situations. Family members, friends, or even professionals like therapists can provide this assistance.


It involves providing practical assistance to someone in need. This can include providing financial services, transportation, or helping with household chores. Family members or close friends often offer this.


It involves providing advice, guidance, and information to someone in need. This can include sharing knowledge about a particular topic, providing resources, or helping someone find the necessary information. Professionals like doctors, counselors, or educators often offer this.


Appraisal involves providing feedback and evaluation to someone in need. This can include helping someone evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, providing constructive criticism, or helping someone set goals. Mentors, coaches, or teachers can provide this.

Social Support and Well-being

Research has shown that individuals who receive social support are less likely to experience mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. It can also help individuals cope with stress and adversity, promoting psychological health.

In addition to promoting mental health, it can also boost self-esteem. Feeling valued and supported by others can increase an individual’s confidence and sense of self-worth, leading to a more positive outlook.

It can contribute to building resilience. Individuals with a strong interpersonal network are better equipped to bounce back and overcome adversity when facing challenges and setbacks.

Social Support and Stress

Stress is a common experience that can lead to adverse physical and psychological outcomes. Social support can act as a buffer against the adverse effects of stress by providing individuals with emotional, informational, and tangible resources.

Stressors can come in many forms, including significant life events, daily hassles, and chronic stress. Social aid can help individuals better manage these stressors by giving them a sense of belonging, connection, and practical assistance when needed.

Coping strategies are another part of managing stress. It can help individuals develop and implement effective coping strategies by providing guidance, feedback, and encouragement. For example, a supportive friend or family member can offer advice on dealing with a problematic situation or provide a listening ear when needed.


Psychological distress is another common outcome of stress. It can help individuals better manage psychological distress by providing emotional assistance and validation. This can help individuals feel less alone and more understood, reducing feelings of distress.

Social Support and Health

Studies have shown that social support can improve physical activity levels, reduce disability, and improve overall health status.

One study found that individuals who received it were more likely to engage in physical activity, leading to improved health outcomes. It has been shown to reduce disability in individuals with chronic illnesses, such as arthritis.

Another study found that it was positively associated with improved health status, including lower body mass index (BMI) and reduced risk of chronic diseases. These findings suggest that a strong interpersonal network can significantly impact an individual’s health.

The Role of Social Relationships


Family members can provide each other with emotional, informational, and tangible aid. In the emotional aspect, it can involve listening, offering encouragement, and giving comfort during difficult times. In contrast, informative assistance can involve sharing knowledge, advice, and guidance. Tangible aid can include practical help, such as providing food, shelter, or financial guidance.


Friends can provide emotional guidance, companionship, and a sense of belonging. They can also offer practical assistance, such as helping with household tasks or transportation. Friends can provide an interpersonal comparison, which can help individuals evaluate their circumstances and make conscious decisions.


Communities can give individuals a sense of belonging, social support, and resource access. They can also offer opportunities for community engagement, promoting interpersonal connections, and enhancing overall lives. Communities can provide a sense of identity and purpose, which can help individuals feel valued and supported.

Perceived and Received Support

Perceived interpersonal support is the belief that one has access to supportive relationships, while received support is the actual help received from those relationships.

Various factors, including cultural norms, personality traits, and past experiences, can influence perceived support. It can also be affected by the type of assistance one seeks, such as emotional and tangible support.

Received support, however, can come in many forms, including emotional, informational, and tangible support.

Both can have a significant impact on individuals’ lives. Perceived support can provide a sense of security and reduce stress, while received support can help individuals cope with difficult situations and improve their overall health outcomes. Individuals need access to both types to maintain a healthy network.

Social Support and Delinquency

Research has shown that low levels of social support are associated with an increased risk for delinquency and criminal behavior. This is particularly true for juveniles who may lack positive role models and guidance from adults in their lives.

The justice system has recognized its importance in rehabilitating juvenile offenders. Programs that focus on building healthy relationships and networks have been shown to reduce recidivism rates and promote positive behavior change effectively.

Social Support in Different Contexts


Social support can come from colleagues, supervisors, and managers in the workplace. It can take the form of emotional assistance, such as providing a listening ear or offering words of encouragement during a difficult time. Instrumental aid can also be beneficial, such as helping with work tasks or providing resources. In addition, informational help, such as sharing knowledge or expertise, can help improve job performance and reduce stress.

Support Group

Support groups provide a safe environment for individuals to share their experiences and receive emotional and informational guidance. They can be beneficial for individuals coping with chronic illnesses, mental health conditions, or other challenging life events. These groups can also provide a sense of community and belonging, which can be especially important for individuals who may feel isolated or misunderstood.

Theories and Models of Social Support

One of the most widely studied models is the “support provision” model, which suggests that it can be categorized into four types: emotional, informational, tangible, and companionship support. Every kind of assistance serves a unique function and can be provided by different sources, such as family members, friends, or healthcare professionals.

It can also have micro-level effects on individuals, such as improving their mental health, reducing their risk of chronic diseases, and enhancing their overall quality of life. However, its effectiveness can vary depending on factors such as the type of assistance provided, the source, and the context in which it is received.

Measuring Social Support

Several ways to measure social support include self-report measures, observer ratings, and content analysis.

  • Self-report measures are questionnaires asking individuals to report on their networks.
  • Observer ratings involve having an outside observer rate an individual’s social interpersonal network based on their interactions with others.
  • Content analysis involves analyzing written or spoken communication to determine the level of social assistance present.

One widely used self-report measure is the Social Support Questionnaire (SSQ), which Don Drennon-Gala and Francis Cullen developed. The SSQ assesses social support across three domains: emotional, tangible, and informational.

Google Scholar is an excellent resource for finding research on measuring it. Many studies have used a variety of measures to assess it, and the results have been mixed. However, research has shown that it is critical to mental and physical health outcomes.

Challenges and Future Directions

One of the main challenges is the need to develop more effective interventions that can promote social support among different populations. Another challenge is identifying the aspects that can promote or hinder their development.

As we move forward, it is vital to focus on the growth of the theory and its applications in different fields. One area of development is in the prevention and management of chronic diseases. Promoting it can help individuals manage their conditions and improve their quality of life.

In terms of public health, the theory can promote healthy behaviors and reduce the risk factors for various diseases. For example, it can be used to encourage individuals to quit smoking, exercise more, and eat healthier.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does social support theory impact mental health?

It suggests that it can positively impact mental health by reducing stress, increasing self-esteem, and promoting positive coping strategies. Studies have shown that individuals with strong interpersonal networks are less likely to experience depression and anxiety.

What is the relationship between social support theory and coping strategies?

It can serve as a buffer against stress and promote positive coping strategies. Individuals with strong interpersonal networks are more likely to use adaptive coping strategies, such as problem-solving and seeking assistance, rather than maladaptive coping strategies, such as substance abuse or avoidance.

Can social support theory be applied to different cultures?

It has been applied across different cultures and has been found to be effective in promoting positive mental health outcomes. However, cultural differences may impact the most valued types and how they are sought and provided.

How does social support theory relate to the development of resilience?

It can promote the development of resilience by providing individuals with resources and coping strategies to navigate stressful situations.

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