bolger-eckenrode-jpsp-1991

bolger-eckenrode-jpsp-1991 - Journal of Personality and...

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Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Copyright 1991 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 1991, Vol. 61, No. 3, 440-449 0022-3514/91/$3.00 Social Relationships, Personality, and Anxiety During a Major Stressful Event Niall Bolger John Eckenrode University of Denver Cornell University Although it is commonly believed that social relationships buffer the effects of stress on mental health, these apparent buffering effects may be spurious reflections of personality or prior mental health. This possibilitywas investigated in a prospective study of a medical school entrance exami- nation. Five weeks before the examination, Ss (N = 56) rated their personality (extraversion and neuroticism) and social relationships (number of social contacts and perceived support). They then rated their anxiety for 35 days surrounding the examination. Controlling for personality and prior anxiety, social contacts buffered against increases in anxiety, whereas perceived support did not. Further analyses revealed that discretionary social contacts were beneficial whereas obligatory contacts were not. It is now commonly believed that social relationships buffer the effects of stress on mental health. Although this belief is grounded in more than a decade of research (S. Cohen & Syme, 1985; B. R. Sarason, Sarason, & Pierce, 1990), some commenta- tors have argued that the stress-buffering effects of social rela- tionships may reflect personal rather than environmental re- sources (e.g., Gottlieb, 1983; Hansson, Jones, & Carpenter, 1984; Heller, 1979; Thoits, 1982). Bolstering this claim is evidence that people's perceptions of social support are confounded with both their personality (Henderson, Byrne, & Duncan-Jones, 1981) and their prior mental health (Monroe, Bromet, ConneU, & Steiner, 1986; Turner, 1981). Although contrary findings also exist (e.g., S. Cohen, Sherrod, & Clark, 1986), the possibility that social support effects are spurious remains a serious threat to the validity of this area of research. Two issues have hampered the resolution of this question; one is conceptual and the other is methodological. At the con- ceptual level, the literature has neglected structural and interac- tional features of relationships, such as network size and fre- quency of social contacts (Coyne & Bolger, 1990; House & Kahn, 1985). Thus, research showing the confounding effects of personality and prior mental health is based on perceived sup- port measures of social relationships. We will argue that per- ceptions of support are more prone to these confounding ef- fects than are structural and interactional measures. At the methodological level, it is a major drawback that most existing social support research has used weak, cross-sectional, and retrospective designs (Monroe & Steiner, 1986). Such de- signs are unsuitable for determining the causal role of social relationships in adaptation to stress. In this study, we sought to We thank Jane Crawford for access to the sample and Paula Han- peter for assistance with data collection. We also thank Daryl Bem, Sheldon Cohen, James Coyne, Geraldine Downey, Mark Foster, Harry
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