Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Michael W. O'Hara


Many social processes influence the amount, quality, and availability of support from an individual's social network. Trait influences are characteristics of the individual that generalize across relationships and affect how much support is received and perceived on average from other people. Social influences comprise characteristics of the individual's social network. They are relationship specific and account for the variability in supportiveness among an individual's providers. Recent studies have taken a multilevel approach to studying social support in order to partition the variance in sets of relationship-specific support measures into trait and social components. These studies have also used multivariate generalizability (G) theory to examine the correlations between social support and other constructs, such as negative mood, at the trait and social level.

These multilevel studies have begun to clarify the relative contributions of trait and social influences on social support, but much is yet to be learned about the nature and measurement of social support's trait and social components. One set of aims within this project was to identify characteristics of support recipients and characteristics of support providers that were related to the reception and perception of social support. Another set of aims focused on validating the measurement strategies used by G theory researchers and understanding how the trait and social components of support and mood derived from relationship-specific measures relate to traditional measures of these constructs. My final set of aims involved the application of multilevel analyses of social support and negative mood to three existing theories in the social support literature--the buffering hypothesis, the matching hypothesis, and the platinum rule.

The participants in this study comprised two samples--one group of 755 undergraduate psychology students, and one group of 430 community members from across the United States. Participants completed measures of their personality traits, recent depressive symptoms, recent experiences of life adversity and perceived control over life adversity. They also reported on three close relationships including support from those relationships, satisfaction with those relationships, and mood experienced when interacting with those three people.

Several multilevel analyses were used in the study. Univariate G theory analyses were used to quantify the relative variance in support, mood, and relationship satisfaction attributable to trait and social influences. Multivariate G theory analyses were used to estimate the links between these variables at the trait and social levels of analysis. Mixed effects models were used to identify trait and relationship-specific constructs that that might partly constitute the trait and social influences on social support. Multilevel Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) was used to evaluate the validity of several constructs employed in previous multilevel studies on social support. Finally, mixed effects and multivariate G theory analyses were used to test the buffering hypothesis, the matching hypothesis, and the platinum rule.

Consistent with previous multilevel studies of social support, recipients who received more support, on average, from their social networks also reported more negative mood when interacting with their providers. After taking those average tendencies into account, the amount of support received from an individual support provider was not associated with negative mood experienced when with that provider. The investigation of the trait influences on social support showed that recipients who were younger, more extraverted, and more open to new experiences tended to receive more social support. Women tended to receive more support than men. With respect to social influences, romantic partners tended to provide the most support whereas friends and siblings provided significantly less support on average. Women tended to provide more support than men. The validity assessment showed that the social component of support availability was only modestly distinct from the social component of generic relationship satisfaction. The trait component of support availability showed good discriminant validity from relationship satisfaction and good convergent validity with global support availability. The trait component of relationship-specific mood showed moderate convergent validity with general mood. The buffering and matching hypotheses were not supported by my findings. The platinum rule was supported at the trait level in that recipients who reported greater support adequacy, on average, tended to report more positive mood and less negative mood. The platinum rule was also supported at the social level in that recipients tended to report experiencing the most positive mood and least negative mood when interacting with individual providers who tended to supply the most adequate support.

Public Abstract

The amount of social support any one person receives is influenced by characteristics of that person, characteristics of the people in that person’s support network, and characteristics of the unique relationships between all of them. In this study, I found that women received more support than men and that recipients who were younger, more extraverted, and more open to new experiences also received more support. Individuals got more support from their romantic partners and less from their family and friends. Regardless of relationship type, female support providers tended to give more support than male providers. I also found that individuals who received more support overall tended to experience more positive mood and that they experienced the most positive mood with the people who provided the most support.

Individuals who received the most social support also experienced more negative mood. Part of the reason more social support was associated with more negative mood was that individuals who got more support than they wanted experienced more negative mood. Individuals who received less support than they wanted also experienced more negative mood.

The implications of this study are that individuals who want more social support should speak openly, spend time with others frequently, and seek opportunities for cultural engagement and new experiences regularly. They should also seek out or maintain a romantic relationship and cultivate relationships with female support providers. Support providers should learn the preferences of those they help regarding how much of certain types of support those recipients would like.


publicabstract, Generalizability Theory, Mood, Platinum Rule, Relationship Satisfaction, Social Support


xii, 136 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 121-136).


Copyright 2015 J Austin Williamson

Included in

Psychology Commons