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Conceptual, Methodological, and Theoretical Problems in Studying Social Support as a Buffer Against Life Stress

Peggy A. Thoits
Journal of Health and Social Behavior
Vol. 23, No. 2 (Jun., 1982), pp. 145-159
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2136511
Page Count: 15
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Conceptual, Methodological, and Theoretical Problems in Studying Social Support as a Buffer Against Life Stress
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Abstract

The buffering hypothesis suggests that social support can moderate the impacts of life events upon mental health. However, several problems have yet to be resolved in this literature. Social support has been inadequately conceptualized and operationalized; therefore, the specific dimensions of support that reduce event impacts cannot be identified. The direct effect of events upon support and the interactive (buffering) effect of events with support have been confounded in many studies, such that results may have been biased in favor of the hypothesis. The relationships between events, support, and psychological disturbance have not been clarified theoretically; thus, the possibility that support itself is an etiological factor has been overlooked. This article reviews empirical work on the buffering hypothesis, outlines alternate conceptualizations and operationalizations of support, presents a refined hypothesis and model for analysis, and suggests three theoretical approaches that may be used to explain the interrelationships between support, events, and disturbance.

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