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Social support : age gender and psychological distress


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Lacey, Catherine Margaret (2013) Social support : age gender and psychological distress. Coursework Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The current study was conducted to investigate sex and age differences in various
aspects of social support in a sample of 579 participants. The study also addressed
possible links between particular forms of support, different support providers and
psychological distress. Participants aged 18-71 all completed the Network of
Relationships Inventory Social Provisions Version as well as the Depression, Anxiety
and Stress Scale. It was revealed by a chi-square test that overall, the sample ranked
their romantic partners, followed closely by their mothers, as the preferred support
provider. Consistent with previous research, results of t-tests indicated that females
reported higher levels of overall support than did males. Despite this, similar levels of
support were reported by both males and females for their romantic partners, other sex
friends and for most forms of support from fathers. When age differences were
explored using a series of mixed model ANOVA's, younger participants were found to
report higher levels of support from all providers, except romantic partners. Instead,
older participants reported the highest mean level of support from their romantic
partner for both instrumental and overall support types. Regression analyses involving
possible links between support and psychological functioning, uncovered that males
appeared to be more impacted by their support systems. This was indicated by support
from multiple providers which were found to negatively and positively predict males
levels of wellbeing. In comparison, only one provider was found to predict levels of
psychological wellbeing in females. Despite significant amounts of research indicating
the positive impacts of social support, the current study found that this relationship may
be influenced by sex, support type and particular support provider. Humans are described as innately social beings with a strong desire to belong and be
in the company of others (Tuomela, 1995). Therefore, the role of social support in the lives of
humans has been extensively discussed and researched. The definition of what social support
consists of and how it should be measured has been a source of debate in relevant literature.
This is because social support can be provided in various ways by one's support network and
can be measured both qualitatively and quantitatively. Social support can also be provided in
various forms such as physical, mental and emotional (Heitzman & Kaplan, 1988). Despite
the complexity of defining this construct, researchers have been able to agree on the positive
links that exist between having social support networks and overall psychological wellbeing.
This has been demonstrated by a negative correlation between high levels of social support
and negative affect such as depression, self-esteem and loneliness found consistently by
numerous studies (e.g. Elliott, Marmarosh, & Pickelman, 1994; Lara, Leader, & Klein, 1997;
White, Bruce, Farrell, & Kliewer, 1998). These results have all indicated that higher levels of
support likely acts as a buffer against some forms of psychological distress, particularly in
times of increased stress or crisis (Flannery & Wieman, 1989; Holahan & Moos, 1981; Matt
& Dean, 1993).
There may, however, be other factors which mediate the relationship between social
support and psychological well-being. These factors might include the actual individuals who
make up one's support network and the level or type of support received from them. It has
been suggested that this support also differs between sexes and age groups (Coventry,
Gillespie, Heath, & Martin, 2004). Despite this, research in the area has lacked and further
investigation has been required to determine just how the people who make up the support
network were utilised differently by males and females, and if this differed throughout the
lifespan. Not only has it been identified that these aspects of social support required further
investigation, but that there may also be possible links between particular types of support
and psychological distress. Despite the clear findings regarding the protective nature of social
supports on psychological wellbeing, emerging findings on its links with psychological
distress identified an area that too required addressing (Avioli, 1989; Chen & Feeley, 2012;
Fisher, Nadler, & Whitcher-Alagna, 1982; Merz, Consedine-Schulze, & Schuengel , 2010;
Searcy & Eisenberg, 1992). These researchers indicated that previously held beliefs with
regard to social support generally being a positive influence in one's life, were unfounded
and that careful consideration should be given to the specific support provider and support
type before predicting its level of usefulness.
The focus of much of the research in this area was conducted in the 1980's and
1990's with a large percentage of recent works shifting direction to topics such as the impact
of support on health (Bennett et al„ 2001; DiMatteo, 2004; Everard, Lach, Fisher, & Baum,
2000; Uchino, 2006; Wilkinson & Marmot, 2003; . One such example of this was recent
works by Jetten, Haslam and Haslam (2011). This book provided an in-depth overview of
social identity theory including points regarding just how essential social contact and
belonging can be for human beings, to the extent that is can act as protective factor both from
illness itself and to also aid a better recovery from illness.
In the literature review presented below the conceptualisation and measurement of the
construct social support is firstly explored. The literature on the following areas of interest
are then reviewed: sex and age differences in social support, and the relationship between
social support and psychological distress. Aims and hypothesis for the current study are then

Item Type: Thesis (Coursework Master)
Keywords: Social networks, Stress tolerance (Psychology), Sex differences (Psychology)
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2012 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Available for use in the Library and copying in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968, as amended. Thesis (MPsych(Clin))--University of Tasmania, 2013. Includes bibliographical references

Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2014 02:57
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2016 01:39
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