Social support is an extremely diverse topic. It is the subject of approximately forty thousand scholarly articles when entered into the Grand Valley State University library database under the keyword, “social support.” For example, social support has been linked to positive psychological health and low rates of disorders (Barrera, 1986; Finch, Okun, Pool & Ruehlman, 1999; Sarason, Sarason & Gurung, 2001), major depression (Lakey & Cronin, 2008), and posttraumatic stress disorder (Brewin, Andrews, & Valentine, 2000). Also, people who do not have a strong social support system are subject to general psychological distress (Barrera, 1986; Cohen & Wills, 1985; Sarason, 2001). The present study is an investigation of the mechanisms by which perceived social support is linked to better mental health. This study was conducted to explore the link between favorable affect and perceived social support by examining the extent to which conversation elaboration (CE) is highly relational and the extent to which CE can account for perceived support’s link to mental health, specifically for relational influences. This was be done by testing relational regulation theory (RRT) which explains the association between perceived support and mental health by using CE as the mechanism. This study examines RRT as an alternative to the stress and coping theory, which is currently the dominant mechanism for social support stress coping which occurs when people are better insulated or equipped by social support to deal with hazardous effects from stress. This was done by utilizing United States Marine Corps reservists to rate the perceived support provided and received from other Marines in their company.
Findings were consistent with RRT for relational influences: Perceived social support and CE are correlated at about .77 and both are correlated with positive affect at about .42 and with negative affect at about -.35. Perceived social support was found to be linked to high positive affect and low negative affect, and positive affect and negative affect were weakly correlated. Perceived social support’s link to negative affect was lower than perceived social support’s link to positive affect. Perceived social support and CE were very highly correlated and showed the same pattern of correlations with positive affect and negative affect as did perceived social support. Conversation elaboration can account for perceived social support’s link to negative affect but not positive affect. This infers that there is significant recipient trait variance for each of these constructs. The current study demonstrates a useful tool for studying social influences on relational influence and affect that could easily be adopted for use in studying information processing within clinical disorder. These results may help to build the basic science needed to support interventions by providers that match a recipient’s unique personality.