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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1987 Oct;53(4):793-804.

Social networks: we get by with (and in spite of) a little help from our friends.

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Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle 98195.


Studies of social support networks have almost exclusively measured only their positive aspects. In this research, we investigated both the helpful or positive and the upsetting or negative aspects of social networks in a longitudinal study of spouses caring for a husband or wife with Alzheimer's disease, a progressive senile dementia. Measures of helpful and upsetting aspects of the care givers' networks, derived from interviews and daily interaction ratings, were studied for their relations with overall network satisfaction and depression at an initial interview period (n = 68) and at a follow-up period about 10 months later (n = 38). Results from hierarchical multiple regression analyses, in which care givers' age and sex and a measure of the spouses' health status were controlled, showed that the care givers' degree of upset with their networks was strongly associated with lower network satisfaction and increased depression at both time periods. Helpful aspects bore little or no direct relation to either depression or network satisfaction. Helpful aspects of the network did, however, interact with network upset in predicting network satisfaction, and depression (combined probabilities test, p less than .05). Longitudinal predictions of follow-up depression, after age, sex, care givers' health status, and initial depression levels were controlled, showed that changes in upsetting aspects of one's network were predictive of changes in depression over time. We interpreted these results within an attributional framework that emphasizes the salience of upsetting events within a social network.

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