Psychosocial Models of the Role of Social Support in the Etiology of Physical Disease

Department of Psychology, Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.
Health Psychology (Impact Factor: 3.59). 02/1988; 7(3):269-97. DOI: 10.1037/0278-6133.7.3.269
Source: PubMed


Although there has been a substantial effort to establish the beneficial effects of social support on health and well-being, relatively little work has focused on how social support influences physical health. This article outlines possible mechanisms through which support systems may influence the etiology of physical disease. I begin by reviewing research on the relations between social support and morbidity and between social support and mortality. I distinguish between various conceptualizations of social support used in the existing literature and provide alternative explanations of how each of these conceptualizations of the social environment could influence the etiology of physical disease. In each case, I address the psychological mediators (e.g., health relevant cognitions, affect, and health behaviors) as well as biologic links (e.g., neuroendocrine links to immune and cardiovascular function). I conclude by proposing conceptual and methodological guidelines for future research in this area, highlighting the unique contributions psychologists can make to this inherently interdisciplinary endeavor.

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    • "Indeed, a large body of evidence has linked highly supportive relationships with physical health (e.g., see Deci and Ryan 2008; Ng et al. 2012; Ryan et al. 2008). Although extant research also suggests that close relationships affect physical health (e.g., Berkman 1995; Cohen 1988; Robles et al. 2014; Uchino et al. 1996), the specific pathways through which relationships might influence health outcomes remain underexplored (e.g., Uchino 2009). "

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    • "Research on the benefits of social support has not yielded systematically positive results. However, three conditions have been shown to improve the overall effectiveness of support transactions: (a) support must be empathetic (Thoits, 1986), (b) support must be fitting to the stressor (Cohen, 1988), and (c) support must not be perceived as burdensome to the support provider (Bolger, Zuckerman, & Kessier, 2000). Social support provides a useful mechanism for understanding the ways in which increased social integration can affect both mental and physical health. "
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