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Perceived Support, Received Support, and Adjustment to Stressful Life Events

Elaine Wethington and Ronald C. Kessler
Journal of Health and Social Behavior
Vol. 27, No. 1 (Mar., 1986), pp. 78-89
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2136504
Page Count: 12
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Perceived Support, Received Support, and Adjustment to Stressful Life Events
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Abstract

A systematic review of the literature on social support shows that a stress-buffering effect is most consistently found when support is measured as a perception that one's network is ready to provide aid and assistance if needed (Kessler and McLeod, 1985). Two interpretations of this association are considered here: (1) that the perception of support availability indirectly indicates actual network responses to stressful events that more directly promote healthy adjustment; and (2) that the perception of support availability influences adjustment directly by modifying appraisals of the situation. No attempt has been made in the literature to discriminate between these two interpretations. One reason is that a strategy for critically evaluating the competing hypotheses has not yet been developed. A main contribution of our paper is that it exposits such a strategy. A rigorous evaluation of the competing interpretations requires a prospective research design and a data collection effort explicitly aimed at obtaining information about both actual support transactions and perceptions of support availability in hypothetical situations. We know of no data set that meets these dual requirements. As an illustration of the strategy suggested here, however, we analyze cross-sectional data from a large-scale national survey. Although limited, these data provide provisional information about the competing interpretations. Analysis shows that perceived support is, in general, more important than received support in predicting adjustment to stressful life events. We also present evidence that the influence of received support may be mediated by perceived support. These results demonstrate the power of the strategy and argue for a direct evaluation with more appropriate data.

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