Social support is most effective when provided invisibly

November 30, 2010

New research by University of Minnesota psychologists shows how social support benefits are maximized when provided "invisibly"--that is without the support recipient being aware that they are receiving it.

The study, "Getting in Under the Radar: A Dyadic View of Invisible Support," is published in the December issue of the journal Psychological Science.

In the study, graduate student Maryhope Howland and professor Jeffry Simpson suggest there may be something unique about the emotional support behaviors that result in recipients being less aware of receiving support.

"While previous research has frequently relied solely on the perceptions of support recipients, these findings are notable in that they reflect the behavior of both parties in a support exchange," Howland said. "They also mark a significant step forward in understanding how and when social support in couples is effective."

Receiving social support such as advice or encouragement is typically thought of as positive, a generous act by one person yielding benefits for another in a time of need. Effective support should make someone feel better and more competent, it is generally acknowledged. However, what is supposedly considered "support" may make someone feel vulnerable, anxious, or ineffective in the face of a stressor, Howland and Simpson found.

In the U of M study, 85 couples engaged in a videotaped support interaction in the lab. Support recipients were instructed to discuss something they'd like to change about themselves with their partners, who thus had the opportunity to provide support. After the interaction, support recipients reported how much support they had received (or were aware of receiving), and trained observers then watched the videotapes and coded the interactions to gauge the extent to which any support provided was invisible or visible.

Recipients whose partners provided more invisible emotional support such as reassurance or expressions of concern, but believed they had received less emotional support, experienced greater declines in anger and anxiety. This was also true for invisible practical support such as advice or direct offers of assistance. Additionally, in the case of invisible practical support, recipients experienced increases in self-efficacy.

Romantic partners are often a primary source of support, and understanding how the support process works between the two partners is likely to inform counseling and clinical approaches as well as future research in this area, according to the study's authors.
-end-
Contacts: Tessa Eagan, University of Minnesota - College of Liberal Arts, teagan@umn.edu, (612) 625-3781

Jeff Falk, University of Minnesota - University News Service, jfalk@umn.edu, (612) 626-1720

Keri Chiodo, Association for Psychological Science, kchiodo@psychologicalscience.org, (202) 293-9300

Association for Psychological Science

Related Behavior Articles from Brightsurf:

Variety in the migratory behavior of blackcaps
The birds have variable migration strategies.

Fishing for a theory of emergent behavior
Researchers at the University of Tsukuba quantified the collective action of small schools of fish using information theory.

How synaptic changes translate to behavior changes
Learning changes behavior by altering many connections between brain cells in a variety of ways all at the same time, according to a study of sea slugs recently published in JNeurosci.

I won't have what he's having: The brain and socially motivated behavior
Monkeys devalue rewards when they anticipate that another monkey will get them instead.

Unlocking animal behavior through motion
Using physics to study different types of animal motion, such as burrowing worms or flying flocks, can reveal how animals behave in different settings.

AI to help monitor behavior
Algorithms based on artificial intelligence do better at supporting educational and clinical decision-making, according to a new study.

Increasing opportunities for sustainable behavior
To mitigate climate change and safeguard ecosystems, we need to make drastic changes in our consumption and transport behaviors.

Predicting a protein's behavior from its appearance
Researchers at EPFL have developed a new way to predict a protein's interactions with other proteins and biomolecules, and its biochemical activity, merely by observing its surface.

Spirituality affects the behavior of mortgagers
According to Olga Miroshnichenko, a Sc.D in Economics, and a Professor at the Department of Economics and Finance, Tyumen State University, morals affect the thinking of mortgage payers and help them avoid past due payments.

Asking if behavior can be changed on climate crisis
One of the more complex problems facing social psychologists today is whether any intervention can move people to change their behavior about climate change and protecting the environment for the sake of future generations.

Read More: Behavior News and Behavior Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.