Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Can Ordinary Conversations Account for Perceived Support


Psychology Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Social and Behavioral Sciences


Perceived social support is important because low support is linked to poor mental health, including major mental disorders, and within the normal range, low positive and high negative affect (Lakey & Orehek, 2011; PsyRev). Most social support research is guided by stress and coping theory and predicts that enacted support (e.g., advice or reassurance) protects people from the bad effects of stress (stress buffering) (Cohen & Wills, 1985; PsyBul). However, this theory does not fit the data well on certain points. For example, perceived support is most commonly linked to mental health regardless of stress (main effects), is not closely linked to enacted support, and enacted support has not been able to explain perceived supports link to mental health. Relational regulation theory (RRT; Lakey & Orehek, 2011) predicts that the main effect between perceived support and mental health reflects social regulation through ordinary conversation and shared activities. RRT also predicts that the support providers, conversations and activities that regulate a specific recipient is largely a matter of the recipients personal tastes (i.e., is relational). 100 Marine Corp reservists participated who were about to be deployed to Afghanistan. Marines rated each other in naturally-occurring 4-person teams on perceived supportiveness, conversation quality and positive as well as negative affect elicited. Provider supportiveness was rated with the Quality of Relationships Inventory (Pierce et al., 1991; JPSP), recipients affect when with the provider was assessed with the PANAS (Watson et al., 1988; JPSP), and conversation quality was assessed with the Perceived Conversation Quality Scale (Lakey et al., 2014; UndrRev). This was a round robin design to isolate relationship, recipient and provider effects (Kenny, 1994; IntpPerc). Recipient (aka actor) effects reflect the extent to which some recipients see the same providers as more supportive than other recipients. Provider (aka partner) effects reflect the extent to which recipients agree that some providers are more supportive than others. Relationship effects indicate the extent to which a recipient sees a provider as more supportive than 1) the recipients tendency to see all providers as supportive, and 2) the providers tendency to be seen as supportive by other recipients. RRT makes predictions about relationship effects specifically. The findings were as predicted by RRT. 54% of the variance in perceived support and 67% of the variance in conversation quality was relational. Relational perceived support was strongly correlated with conversational quality (r=.70). That is, when a recipient saw a provider as eliciting unusually good conversation, the recipient saw the provider as unusually supportive. In addition, relational conversation quality and perceived support were linked to high positive affect (r= .54 & .54) and low negative affect (r= -.35 & -.44). That is, when a recipient saw a provider as unusually supportive, or as eliciting unusually good conversation, the provider elicited unusually high positive and low negative affect in the recipient. Finally, multiple regression indicated that most of the link between relational support and affect overlapped with conversation quality.

Conference Name

26th annual convention for the Association for Psychological Science

Conference Location

San Francisco, CA

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