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Soc Sci Med. 1988;26(8):863-73.

Methodological issues in social support and social network research.

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Cardiovascular Institute, Boston University School of Medicine, MA 02118.


With the plethora of articles describing a relationship between social support and/or social network and health status, it was considered useful to take stock of the current status of research in this area, focusing on two critical methodological issues: clarity of definition, and validity and reliability of the measurement instruments. Of the 33 instruments reviewed only modest agreement was found in conceptual definition, and frequently the concepts were not defined or ill-defined. Of particular concern is the definitional confusion between social support and social network. Variables used to operationalize these concepts confirm this lack of specificity and ambiguity in definition. As for validity and reliability, many of the investigators reported no data on these issues; others provided information that only modestly supported the validity or reliability of their instrument. The conclusion of this assessment suggests the need to clarify the essential elements of social support and social networks in order to better distinguish between the behavioral (support) and structural (network) variables that may be affecting health status. A question is also raised as to the likelihood of a single questionnaire being designed that would accurately measure the perceptions of support or supportive behaviors in the variety of supportive research that will continue to be studied. Finally, more rigorous standards need to be used by investigators in establishing the validity and reliability of the instruments in order to improve their predictive utility.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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