Behavioral Research

Table of Contents
1 Introduction

Theoretical Perspectives


Measures and Measurements


Related Concepts and Measures






Measures Appendix

8 Published Examples

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Other Constructs



Dispositional Optimism




Illness Representations

  Implementation Intentions
  Intention, Expectation, and Willingness
  Normative Beliefs
  Optimistic Bias
  Perceived Benefits
  Perceived Control
  Perceived Severity
  Perceived Vulnerability
  Self-Reported Behavior
  Social Influence
  Social Support

Social Support
Brian Lakey

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Theoretical Perspectives

Stress and Coping Perspective
The dominant theoretical perspective in social support research draws from stress and coping theory (Lakey & S. Cohen, 2000). According to this theory (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Folkman & Moskowitz, 2004), stress occurs when people interpret situations negatively (i.e., negative appraisals) and stress leads to health problems, in part, insofar as people do not employ adequate coping responses (e.g., problem solving, emotion regulation). Social support promotes health by protecting people from the adverse affects of stress (i.e., stress buffering; Cohen & Wills, 1985). It does so by promoting more adaptive appraisals, more effective coping or both. In theory, social support should only enhance appraisals and coping to the extent that the particular type of social support matches the demands of the stressor (the optimal matching hypothesis; Cohen & Hoberman, 1983; Cutrona & Russell, 1990). Social integration, perceived support and enacted support play somewhat different roles in the stress and coping model of social support. Enacted social support is hypothesized to influence appraisal and coping most directly. Yet, the receipt of enacted support requires at least a minimum of social integration (hermits will receive little enacted support) and extensive social ties should provide many opportunities for enacted support (Uchino, 2004). An individual's perception of support should reflect her/his history of the receipt of effective enacted support, and this perception should directly reduce negative appraisals of stressors.

Social-Cognitive Perspective
An alternative to the stress and coping model is the social-cognitive perspective, which draws from basic research in social cognition and from cognitive models of psychopathology (Lakey & Drew, 1997). This model is primarily geared toward explaining links between perceived support and mental health, and may be relevant to physical health, insofar as mental health is important for physical health. According to this view, negative evaluations of the self, important other people, and negative emotion are linked together in cognitive networks, which influence each other through spreading activation (Baldwin, 1992). That is, negative emotion makes negative evaluations of the self and others more accessible (i.e., they come to mind more easily), and such negative evaluations make negative emotions more accessible (i.e., they are felt more easily and intensely). This view does not rely upon stressful life events or coping as central mechanisms, because negative thinking alone is sufficient to activate negative emotion and vice versa. Supportive social interaction makes negative thoughts and negative emotion less accessible as well as making positive thoughts and emotions more accessible. The model deals with the weak links among perceived support, enacted support and social integration by making reference to social-cognitive research in person perception (Hastie & Park, 1986; Klein, Loftus, Trafton, & Fuhrman, 1992), which suggests that when perceivers judge the characteristics of others (e.g., they judge others' supportiveness), they rarely retrieve from memory the specific past actions of the support provider (e.g., enacted support). Instead, they retrieve the most accessible global judgment from memory (Klein et al., 1992; Lakey & Drew, 1997). Thus, perceptions of support and memory of recent support receipt should not be closely linked.

Social Control Perspective
The social control perspective (Uchino, 2004; Umberson, 1987) is well suited to explaining how social integration may promote better health. This model draws from symbolic interactionism (Thoits, 1985) and emphasizes how relationships can help regulate social behavior, including health-related behavior. Social control may work indirectly, such as when an individual regulates her/his own behavior out of a sense of responsibility to others (e.g., children), and directly, such as when "…an individual might remind his or her spouse to avoid using salt because of its effect on blood pressure…" or "…an individual might threaten to leave a spouse because of excessive alcohol consumption" (Umberson, 1987; p. 310). However, at present, such mechanisms have not been documented directly (Uchino, 2004).

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