Dunbar M, Ford G & Hunt K (1998) Why is the receipt of social support associated with increased psychological distress? An examination of three hypotheses. Psychology and Health, 13 (3), pp. 527-544. https://doi.org/10.1080/08870449808407308
Although there is a great deal of research linking social support with favourable psychological well-being outcomes a number of contradictory findings have been published showing support to be associated with increased psychological distress. These contrary findings arise when social support is measured as the receipt of supportive behaviours rather than perceptions of support availability and quality. This paper examines three hypotheses that have been advanced to explain why the receipt of support is associated with distress. The first of these hypotheses (the support mobilisation hypothesis) argues that the relationship is a spurious one, and that it is a product of distressing circumstances which increase both support receipt and psychological distress. The other two hypotheses (the inequity hypothesis and the esteen threat hypothesis) both argue that receiving support actually causes distress. We tested these hypotheses in two samples. One sample was a group of individuals who reported having some form of disability (N = 106), the other sample was a 'healthy' comparison group (N = 134). Our analyses showed that in both groups the receipt of support was significantly and positively related to reports of anxiety, but not to reports of depression. Among the 'healthy' sample, controlling for subjects' sex largely explained the positive association between support receipt and anxiety. This was not the case among the 'disabled' sample, where the inequity hypothesis received the strongest support. The implications of these findings for interventions based around the provision of social support are examined.
Psychology and Health: Volume 13, Issue 3