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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Social Support across Source and Context: Implications for Well-Being during Adolescence and Young Adulthood

  • Author(s): Guan, Shu-Sha Angie
  • Advisor(s): Fuligni, Andrew
  • Robles, Theodore
  • et al.

Social relationships have great implications for well-being. Positive interpersonal exchanges, such as social support, can be beneficial in buffering the detrimental effects of distress on physiological systems (neuroendocrine, immune, cardiovascular) implicated in the development of chronic diseases. However, characteristics of the support recipient (age, culture), provider (parent vs. peers, Study 1), and context (face-to-face vs. computer-mediated, Study 2) may play a role in shaping the effects of support. The studies in this dissertation examined these factors. Study 1 examined how social support from parents and friends differentially moderated the association between depressive symptoms, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity and inflammation among adolescents (N = 316, Mage = 16.40, SD = .74; 57% female) from diverse backgrounds (23.1% Asian, 29.1% European, 41.8% Latino, and 6.0% other). Results indicated that parent support, but not friend support, moderated the link of depressive symptoms to both total daily cortisol output (a measure of neuroendocrine, HPA activity) and C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease risk). These patterns did not differ by ethnicity. Overall, Study 1 highlights the continued, and perhaps accumulated, importance of parents despite increasing needs for autonomy from and exploration outside of the family unit during adolescence. Study 2 examined how computer-mediated support relative to face-to-face support differentially affects stress reactivity among young adult females (N=103; Mage=19.91, SD=1.91) from Asian (n = 59) compared to non-Asian backgrounds (e.g., African American, European American, Latino, mixed-heritage, n = 44). Participants who received support from a friend through instant messenger before a stressful lab task reported less state anxiety afterward compared to those who did not receive support. Additionally, HPA reactivity across conditions was moderated by ethnicity. Specifically, participants from non-Asian backgrounds who received support face-to-face exhibited less cortisol output throughout the study session compared to their counterparts who received support through instant messenger or not at all. There were no significant differences in cortisol output across all conditions for Asian Americans and no differences were observed for cardiovascular reactivity (heart rate, blood pressure) for all participants. So although new technologies are providing new contexts for social connection, cultural differences in response to in-person support may be reproduced in digital mediums.

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