Social Support

exchange of assistance through social relationships

History and Orientation

Barnes (1954) was the first to describe patterns of social relationships that were not explained by families or work groups. Cassel (1976) found a relationship with health. Social support served as a “protective” factor to people’s vulnerability on the effects of stress on health. Social networks are closely related to social support. Nevertheless, these terms are no theories per se. Social Support and Social Networks are concepts that describe the structure, processes and functions of social relationships. Social networks can be seen as the web of social relationships that surround individuals.

Core Assumptions and Statements

Social Support is associated with how networking helps people cope with stressful events. Besides it can enhance psychological well-being. Social support distinguishes between four types of support (House, 1981). Emotional support is associated with sharing life experiences. It involves the provision of empathy, love, trust and caring. Instrumental support involves the provision of tangible aid and services that directly assist a person in need. It is provided by close friends, colleagues and neighbours. Informational support involves the provision of advice, suggestions, and information that a person can use to address problems. Appraisal support involves the provision of information that is useful for self-evaluation purposes: constructive feedback, affirmation and social comparison.

Social relationships have a great impact on health education and health behavior. There is no theory adequately explaining the link between social relationships and health. Closely related to health components of social relationships are social integration, social network and social support (Berkman et al., 2000). Social integration has been used to refer to the existence of social ties. Social network refers to the web of social relationships around individuals. Social support is one of the important functions of social relationships. Social networks are linkages between people that may provide social support and that may serve functions other than providing support (Glanz et al, 2002).

Conceptual Model

See Glanz et al, 2002, p. 190.

Favorite Methods

To be added.

Scope and Application

For promoting health different interventions can be used. Therefore being able to understand the impact of social relationships on health status, health behaviors and health decision making are very important. Identification of the importance of networks or training of people in networks are applications of the approach of social support.


In 1997 in America the Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) program started. The goal of this program was to reduce the risks faced by the American youth. A mentoring program started, whereby youth was matched with a mentor. These mentors were carefully trained and attention was paid to the selection and training of the volunteers and to the monitoring of the mentors. The participants spend twelve hours a month with their mentors for at least one year. The participants in relation to the control group showed positive results. They had better attitudes toward school and better school attendance, improved relationships with their parents and less likelihood of antisocial behavior. Furthermore, 46% was less likely to use drugs and 27% of using alcohol than the control group. This example shows that social support can be an important contributing factor to the youth and their opinions and actions. However, results should be interpreted carefully. See for remarks and further research Glanz et al (2002).

Example from Glanze et al, 2002, p. 200-202.


Key publications

Glanz, K., Rimer, B.K. & Lewis, F.M. (2002). Health Behavior and Health Education. Theory, Research and Practice. San Fransisco: Wiley & Sons.

Barnes, J.A. (1954). “Class and Committees in a Norwegian Island Parish”. Human Relations, 7, 39-58.

Cassel, J. (1976). “The contribution of the Social Environment to Host Resistance”. American Journal of Epidemiology, 104, 107-123.

House, J.S. (1981). Work Stress and Social Support. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.

Berkman, L.F., Glass, T., Brisette, I. & Seeman, T.E. (2000). “From Social Integration to Health: Durkheim in the New Millennium”. Social Science and Medicine, 51, 843-857.

See also: Network Theory and Analysis

See also Health Communication