To Your Health: Thankful for the Social Support of Family and Friends

Nov 14, 2019

The Beatles famously sang “I get by with a little help from my friends.” And in doing so, they give the definition of social support, which is definitely something to be thankful for.

Social support was first described by G.E. Moss in his 1973 publication Illness, Immunity, and Social Interaction. In the last four decades, the definition of social support has evolved. You could call it the exchange of resources with the intent to enhance well-being or just people helping people.

Social support has been divided into four broad components: appraisal (helping friends to evaluate their circumstances), emotional (providing encouragement or being a listening ear), instrumental (providing tangible resources, such as a meal), and informational (providing friends with information enabling them to deal with their problems).

In the late 1970s, John Cassel, an epidemiologist, and Sidney Cobb, a psychiatrist, published articles arguing social ties could protect people from the negative effects of stressful events. This effect became known as the buffering hypothesis. Now, research promotes the idea that social support not only buffers us from negative events but can also boost the effect of positive ones.

Buffering model/hypothesis of social support. (2006). In J. E. Roeckelein (Ed.), Elsevier's dictionary of psychological theories. Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science & Technology.

Cassel, J. (1976). The contribution of the social environment to host resistance. American Journal of Epidemiology, 104(2), 107–123.

Cobb, S. (1995). Social support as a moderator of life stress. In A. M. Eward, J. E. Dimsdale, B. T. Engel, D. R. Lipsitt, D. Oken, J. D. Sapira, … H. Weiner (Eds.), Toward an integrated medicine: Classics from “Psychosomatic Medicine,” 1959–1979. (pp. 377–397). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

Faulkner, M., & Davies, S. (2005). Social support in the healthcare setting: the role of volunteers. Health & Social Care in the Community, 13(1), 38-45.

Moss, G. E. (1973). Illness, immunity and social interaction. New York, NY: Wiley Interscience.

Thompson, T., & Thompson, T. (Eds.). (2014). Encyclopedia of health communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.