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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Although social support is thought to boost feelings of closeness in dyadic relationships, recent findings have suggested that support receipt can increase distress in recipients. The authors investigated these apparently contrary findings in a large daily diary study of couples over 31 days leading up to a major stressor.

confirm that daily support receipt was associated with greater feelings of closeness and greater negative mood. These average effects, however, masked substantial heterogeneity. In particular, those recipients showing greater benefits on closeness tended to show lesser cost on negative mood, and vice versa.

Self-esteem was examined as a possible moderator of support effects, but its role was evident in only a subset of recipients. These imply that models of dyadic support processes must accord a central role to between-individual heterogeneity.

Studies of support transactions also have a tendency to focus on individual emotions and well-being and are less likely to measure relationship-level variables such as closeness and felt intimacy. We review the strength of the evidence that support receipt has adverse effects on individual well-being, then review the possible effects of support receipt on relationship closeness and intimacy, and finally outline the strengths of considering both negative mood and relationship closeness outcomes in a single study of social support receipt. As discussed above, there is an established literature linking generalized perceived support to better outcomes, including reduced distress e.

Given the seemingly contradictory nature of these findings, the association between daily support and negative mood has been questioned. Specifically, it has been suggested that the apparent negative effects of support receipt could be due to a reverse causation, that is, distress leading to support provision, or b a common third cause, such as stress leading to both distress and support, which would create a spurious association.

Two kinds of evidence argue against reverse causation. One is the use of lagged variables so that the association of distress on one day is related to support on the day e. Bolger et al. In these lagged models, yesterday's negative mood is adjusted for statistically such that the adverse effects of yesterday's support on today's mood cannot be due to simple build-up of negative mood. Seidman et al. They concluded that the effects obtained empirically by Bolger et al.

The other alternative model is that of a third variable that le to both distress and support provision—a spurious association model. An example of this alternative model is the support-seeking—triage model, which posits that the negative outcomes from receiving support are due not to the support itself, but instead to support and psychological distress being simultaneously caused by a precipitating stressful event Barrera, According to this model, it is not receiving support that causes distress, but the stressor that simultaneously evokes both psychological distress and increased support from others.

Support and negative mood coincide because both are responses to negative events, not because they are causally linked to negative mood. However, the association between support and negative outcomes typically remains even after adjustment for relevant third variables. Krausein a nationwide study of year-olds in Great Britain, found that even when adjusting for health status, individuals who received support had an increased mortality risk, and those who had high perceived availability of support had decreased mortality risk.

Experimental studies have also demonstrated that support receipt and not just the precipitating stressor can have deleterious effects on mood. Bolger and Amarel found that students asked to give an impromptu speech were more anxious when they received explicit, visible support from a confederate than were students who did not receive support. Furthermore, the Seidman et al. They created fictitious data in which the level of distress today was caused by yesterday's distress, as well as adversity experienced today and yesterday.

Similarly, the support transactions today were modeled to be more likely when support was provided yesterday and when adversity was experienced either today or yesterday. Unlike the of the reverse causation simulation study, Seidman et al. However, the size of the bias was very small, even when the magnitude of the effect of adversity was made to be unrealistically large. Taken together, these findings suggest that the association between psychological distress and support receipt is not spurious.

Both approaches suggest that people will be most satisfied when they perceive their supportive relationships as being equitable or reciprocal. Buunk and Schaufeli took an evolutionary approach to reciprocity, suggesting that it is a basic psychological mechanism that developed to maintain social relationships and indicate individuals' importance in their social groups. From the perspective of reciprocity theory, Uehara specifically argued that it is being overbenefited—receiving support without returning it—that is particularly psychologically distressing.

A different explanation for a tendency for distress to increase with received support is one that focuses on possible effects of support on the recipient's self-esteem. Fisher, Nadler, and Whitcher-Alagna proposed the threat-to-self-esteem model of aid or support receipt that posits that helping consists of both self-threatening and supportive components. The self-threatening components can undermine the recipients' evaluation of their self-efficacy, competence, and coping abilities, which can in turn lead to increased psychological distress. On the other hand, Fisher et al.

It is perhaps this potential sense of being cared for by one's partner bolstered by the positivity of the perceived availability of support that gives social support its positive reputation. Reis, Clark, and Holmes and Cutrona have related the positive findings associated with perceived availability of social support to a global construct called perceived responsiveness of the partner to the self.

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This perception of partner responsiveness is the central path to the development and maintenance of closeness and intimacy in relationships. Like perceived responsiveness to the self, perceived availability of support seems to be based on both personality characteristics of the perceiver and actual supportive interactions.

Given the research indicating that support receipt increases negative mood, it is surprising that it is judged as positive by the recipient at all.

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One possible explanation for this contradiction is that support receipt makes one feel closer to the provider of that support because it makes one feel cared for or responded to Reis et al. Gable, Gonzago, and Strachman found that when individuals were supportive when talking with their partners about their partner's successes, the partners i.

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Regardless, this research on support receipt and relationship variables raises the question of whether support has differential effects on individual-level variables e. The idea that support or aid can produce both increased psychological distress and a sense of being cared for by the provider is particularly intriguing. There are at least two possible models of this pattern of effects: an individual differences model and a within-person differential effects model. An individual differences model would mean that support increases personal distress for some people but increases relationship closeness for others.

A differential effects model would mean that support receipt le to both increased personal distress and increased relationship closeness in the same person. Model 1 in Figure 1 shows a representation of an individual differences model of support receipt. In one group Group Athere is no effect of support on individual distress, but there is a strong and positive effect on relationship closeness. In the other group Group Bthere may be a strong effect of support on individual distress, but no improvement in relationship closeness.

If data from these two groups are combined without a formal model of the nature of the moderation individual differencesthen one might conclude from the mixed analysis that couples are likely to experience both relationship exhilaration and individual distress. Possible models for understanding the effects of support receipt on individual distress and relationship closeness.

In Model 1, support receipt increases relationship closeness in some individuals Group A and increases distress in others Group B. In Model 2, support receipt increases both distress and closeness in all individuals.

The weak or missing effect is represented by a dashed arrow; the strong effect is represented by a solid arrow. This model explains the association between actual support receipt, perceived availability of support, relationship satisfaction, and health. It suggests that the perceived availability of support is directly related to instances of received support, particularly when the provider is seen as a caring and committed partner, and that this process is cyclical: People who receive consistent beneficial support will trust their partners, and people who trust their partners will benefit from support.

Perhaps the negative effects of the receipt of support can be explained by individual differences:. Specifically, people who trust their partners may benefit from support Group A in Figure 1whereas people who lack that trust may experience costs that have been described above Group B in Figure 1. In contrast to the individual differences model, Model 2 in Figure 1 represents a differential effects model, whereby a single support event le to improved relationship closeness and increased individual distress. We might imagine a stressed worker who comes home to a well-intending partner who attempts to provide him or her with a break.

The worker might appreciate the good intentions and feel closer to his or her partner but be distressed by the loss of an evening of productivity. If this were the typical pattern of support provision in the couple, then one would witness simultaneous positive and negative effects of support acts. Although the individual differences model and the differential effects model appear to be discrete alternatives, they can actually be viewed as examples of a range of processes that might vary from couple to couple.

For some pairs of partners, support events could lead to closeness but not to distress; for other partners, support events could lead to distress but no closeness; and for still others, there could be dual effects.

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In the population, some patterns of these relations might be more common than others. Only three studies that we know of have reported on these two processes in the same samples of partners. The Bolger and Amarel study cited earlier did find evidence for mixed effects of support receipt.

Students who received visible support experienced larger increases in negative emotion than those in the nonsupport condition, and they also felt that their partners were more concerned, considerate, and supportive than those in the invisible support condition. However, this study had only a single support event and was not deed to examine individual differences in response to support events.

Gable, Reis, and Downey were able to study repeated support events among dating couples. Even though the data were based on diary reports that allow the study of individual differences, the authors did not include these individual differences which are called random effects in the multilevel statistics literature in their statistical model. Gleason, Iida, Bolger, and Shrout examined the effect of imbalance in support provision and receipt on recipients' negative mood, and Gleason analyzed data from the same daily diary study with a focus on relationship closeness outcomes.

In both of these analyses i. However, it was not possible to determine from these two analyses how often the pattern in Model 2 differential effects model occurred in the sample. To tease apart the effects of support receipt on negative mood and relationship closeness, we analyzed data from a large daily diary study of nearly cohabitating couples in which one partner was approaching a stressful event, the bar examination a difficult-to-pass licensing examination for lawyers that they must pass to practice.

Using a dataset in which one member of the couple is approaching a ificant stressor allowed us to investigate whether responses to support receipt are affected by overall stress level and ensured that we captured couples at a time when support exchanges should have occurred frequently. A typical analysis would involve estimating and interpreting only the fixed or average effects. Although the fixed effects give valuable information about the predominant pattern of the data, fixed effects alone are unable to distinguish between models like those discussed above.

Estimating the random effects of the receipt of support on negative mood and relationship closeness will provide evidence as to whether the effects of receipt of support on the outcomes differ between individuals. If receipt of support increased negative mood on average a ificant fixed effect and there was ificant variation around it a ificant random effectwe would know that individuals' negative mood was differentially affected by receipt of support. Furthermore, we could obtain estimates of each individual's receipt of support effect, which would reveal whether for some people receipt of support decreased negative mood despite the average effect being an increase in negative mood or whether receipt of support increased negative mood in all individuals but to lesser and greater degrees.

In the current study, we took such an analysis one step further and built a model in which we simultaneously modeled the effects of support receipt on negative mood and relationship closeness. This special multilevel model is what Raudenbush and Brykpp. The model and the large sample size allowed us to estimate the random effects of support receipt on both negative mood and closeness and then estimate the correlation between them.

A ificant correlation between the random effects of support receipt on negative mood and relationship closeness would suggest that the effects are systematically linked across individuals, whereas a null correlation would suggest that the association between the effects of support receipt on negative mood and relationship closeness vary by individual but are not linked. This analysis is particularly powerful for two reasons: a It allowed us to model the effects of receipt of support on negative mood and closeness simultaneously, thereby allowing us to investigate how these effects are associated within individuals, and b it allowed us to see whether and how people systematically differ in their reactions to support receipt without having to identify an explanatory moderator.

This second strength is particularly important. Conceptually, we tend to think about the heterogeneity of the responses to support events as possible moderation, as illustrated in Model 1 of Figure 1but, as stated above, in practice the multilevel models do not require that we specify the variables that distinguish Group A from Group B. Given the difficulty of measuring all possible moderators and the fact that moderation is often difficult to find, it is particularly useful that we can identify systematic variation without having to identify its specific source.

In the current study, we first determined the average response to support receipt, then whether there was reliable variation in those responses; as a third step, we attempted to identify the variables that can for such variation. The literature suggests two important candidates for moderating variables that we could examine. One is derived from the Cutrona et al.

Another is the proposition by Fisher et al. The data were collected in the summers of, and by contacting more than law schools in the continental United States. In14 schools agreed to participate by allowing their graduating students to be contacted; in27 schools participated; and in30 schools participated.

Because access to students' marital or cohabitation status was unavailable before recruitment, the school representatives were asked to distribute either a letter or an e-mail to their entire graduating class. Across the 3 years, more than 15, students were contacted. To be eligible for participation, couples had to be married or cohabiting for at least 6 months at the time of the recruitment, and only 1 member of the couple could be planning on taking the July bar exam.

There were eligible couples who contacted us to participate, and of those were ased to the diary condition. The average age of the examinee was Sixty-four percent of the participants were married, and the average length of cohabitation was 4. The composition of the sample was This is a highly educated sample, and therefore is not representative of the population as a whole.

They returned the completed background questionnaires an average of 3 weeks before the start of the diary period. The diary period consisted of the 5 weeks before the bar exam, the 2 days on which the exam took place, and the week after the exam. Between 1 and 2 weeks before the start of the diary period, both members of each couple received an initial packet containing a batch of daily diary questionnaires, a return envelope, and instructions regarding the diary questionnaires. Packets were mailed to each participant on a weekly basis six packets over the 6 weeks of the study.

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