Theories of social relationships

There is something to reflect upon as we reach the end of this quarter, and I'm not sure that it has been emphasized enough in 'class' or in the book. In my professional opinion, probably the most important psychological construct providing salutary effects is the social relationship. One does not need many friends to experience these effects, but we do need some. This is true for everyone from the young to the old. Confidants provide us with comfort, reality-testing (e.g, a sounding board), a place to belong, laughter, validation, aid, health, information, and security. Without them, we expose ourselves to many different types of stress.

Consider the following three theories of social relationships:

1. Convoys of Social Relationships

Social support are considered interpersonal transactions that include one or more: Affect, affirmation, aid. In a way, this is almost like an economics formula, or a theory on comparative advantage of trade. Social support is important for well being throughout life because they provide:

1. Direct contributions (Aid)

2. Moderation of the effects of stress (affirmation)

Convoys are the set of people whom he or she relies on for support and those who rely on him or her in return.

2. Socioemotional selectivity

Reduced rates of social interaction in later life depend on a lifelong selection process. People strategically and adaptively cultivate their social network to maximize social and emotional gains, while minimizing risks (Again with the econ metaphors)

Throughout lifespan:

· casual social partners will become less rewarding

· interaction with significant others will become more valuable

For example, when asked to rate which constructs were more important, different age groups responded as follows:

Constructs of social relationships Groups of study Conclusions
1. Information potential Adolescents

Adolescents mostly emphasized #2 and #1

2. Potential for future contact Middle aged (No data, although I'd expect a mix of all 3)
3. Affective rewards Healthy elderly All Elderly emphasized #3 (potential for positive rather than negative affect)
  Infirm elderly  

3. Weiss Theory of social provisions

States that people have 6 key provisions:

1. Reliable alliance
2. Guidance
3. Social integration (without you have social isolation)
4. Reassurance of worth
5. Nurturance
6. Attachment (without, you have emotional isolation)

Because people tend to become specialized in their social relationship, we must maintain a number of different relations to meet the provisions.

4. Questions to ponder and other little factoids:

Do relations with family and friends effect people differently? Yes

Friends are very important to the psychological well being of adults

However, without family (or with poor relations), general well being declines.


1. obligatory relations vs. optional relations (we must take care of family; not so much with others)
2. family relations ascribed, whereas friends are chosen (we don't choose our parents or siblings or kids)
3. ease of separation (similar to #1; it's more difficult to leave family because there are social and legal binds)
4. friends are typically same age with similar interests.

Does the quality or the quantity of social relations matter? Yes

* Older people without confidants report much more psychological distress
* We tend to have 3.5 close intimates
* For women, at least, there seems to be a negative correlation between the number of confidants and psychological well being.

Do Social relationships reduce the risk of decline in functioning and mortality? Yes

* Social relations lower risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease, cancer, as well as functional decline.
* They also improve survival and recovery rates following acute medical conditions


* Provision of access to information about health
* Encouragement of healthy behavior
* Provision of tangible aid
* Provision of emotional support with life stress
* Enhancement of self-esteem
* Influence on immune system