Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Social support and achievement

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Social support and achievement: How to use social support to help you achieve your goals

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Social support may be defined as the persons or networks of people used regularly to assist in achievement of goals. It is beneficial to realise that our social networks have an influence in our lives either in a positive or negative way. Social support is essential if a person is to achieve their set goals. Social support can be used to achieve goals set in different aspects of life. This may include issues or goals related to psychology, sports, public health, learning, social health, risk management, medicine, and nursing. Improvements of the lifestyles of people have been one of the most vexing problems in society. Among the many attempts aimed at improving human life, social support has been proven one of the most instrumental approaches. Social support emphasises on strengthening social relationships among different persons of varying ages. It proposes that people will live happier lives in an environment where they are recognised. It also proposes that people will lead more fulfilling lives if they live in a society where their social and emotional needs are nurtured. This chapter will look at how social support can be used to help persons achieve their goals.


The importance of social support in achieving life goals rests on claims that people who experience more social support achieve their goals better than those who lack social support. The argument originates from a developing recognition of the problems that most people both young and old face while trying to achieve their goals and the value of social relations in the process. Social support generates motivation for persons to achieve by building self-confidence and making goal achievement appear attainable. Those offering social support act as role models in communicating the importance of social support and showing people how goals can be achieved. Social support also creates a sense of confidence and mental safety that allows people to take risks, accept errors, ask for assistance, and accept failure. In social support, there are three different levels or distinct subtypes identifiable: the perception of social support by the recipient, the supportive action they receive, and the level of integration a person experiences with in a social network. These three levels lead to three types of social support namely perceived, enacted, and socially integrated support. In perceived support, the recipient expects that social support providers will deliver sufficient help in times of need. Enacted support involves supportive actions such as guidance while socially integrated support is determined by the degree at which the a person is linked to the members of a social network. Family relations, acquaintances, and membership in organizations are what lead to socially integrated support. It is, however, surprising that the three types of social support are weakly related to one another. Each has distinct patterns of connections in health, personality, and individual relationships (Barrera, 1986; Uchino, 2009). For instance, perceived support is associated with better psychological health while socially integrated support is associated with outcomes in physical well being such as mortality. On the other hand, enacted support is associated with poor psychological health (Bolger, Zuckerman & Kessler, 2000).

Social support and stress buffering[edit]

Research has shown that social support shields persons from dangerous effects of traumatic life events such as the death of a partner or job loss. The relationship between events and poor psychological or bodily health is weaker for persons with high social support than for persons with low social support. This weak relationship between stress and wellbeing for people with maximum social support is often taken to mean that social support has shielded persons from stress effects. Research has, however, shown that the ability of social support to buffer stress is more realised in perceived support than in enacted or socially integrated support (Cohen & Wills, 1985), (Barrera, 1986).

Social Support and Health[edit]

Social support has been constantly linked with psychological and physical health. The health of persons offered with high social support is usually better compared to the health of those offered with minimal or no social support. In mental health, persons offered with low or no social support show more sub-clinical signs of hopelessness and anxiety compared to those offered with social support of high degree (Cohen & Wills, 1985), (Barrera, 1986). Additionally, people with minimal social support have more rates of serious psychological disorders compared to those with high levels of social support. Some of these psychological disorders include panic, social phobia, dysphemism and eating disorders (Lakey & Cronin, 2008). Research supports the importance of social support by indicating that among people infected with schizophrenia, those offered minimal social support usually show more symptoms (Norman et al., 2005). Additionally, persons having low social support are more prone to committing suicide, alcoholism, and drug abuse (Stice, Barrera & Chassin, 1998; Wills & Cleary, 1996). In physical health, those with low social support die sooner than those with a high level social support (Uchino, 2006).

Social Support and Adolescence[edit]

Teenagers require strong social support to help them maximise their abilities and attain their goals. As teenagers age, they have to deal with many life changes such as the onset of puberty, physical changes, dress codes, introduction into drugs, sexual exploration, and finally the balancing of lines between adhering to rules and exploration of personalities (Torgrud & et al., 2004). Challenges of this number are hard to cope with, and social support has been found to be instrumental in helping teenagers reduce stress levels as well as encourage them to achieve their set goals, and plan (Stice, & et al., 2002)

Social Support and Disease Prevention[edit]

Social support helps in preventing diseases by modifying the supportive features of social environments. Theoretically social support intervention can be more cost effective than treating diseases after they occur. Gottlieb states that if interventions are focused on creating new support systems, strengthening the existing ones or training people in general social skills, then this would immensely help in strengthening their own support systems (Gottlieb, 1978). Researchers note that there is a positive correleation between health and well being though others such as Kiesler have raised doubt about the claims. Kiesler argues that the research carried out in this field is not conclusive enough to have social support being used in the formulation of health policies (Kiesler B., & .et al., 1981). However, research has shown to some extent social support can be instrumental in preventing diseases such as hypertension and depression. People who have strong social support systems are claimed to have a lower risk of suffering from hypertension or depression than those who lack it.

Social Support and Personality Improvement[edit]

Research that has been carried out on the relationship between social support and health is mostly correlational. From the research on social support and personality, two basic questions arise: are there any effects of social support on matters of health beyond effects of stable differences in sociability, and is personality influential in the role, development, and maintenance of social support. The first question seeks to explore the possibility of social support being merely an alternative for personal factors for instance social anxiety and social skills. According to Heller, there is a possibility that social competence influences both support levels and well-being. He continues to say that social competence also influences feelings of personal control, social anxiety, and introversion- extraversion (Heller, 1990).

Social support has been attributed to helping people suffering from social anxiety. People suffering from this condition are referred to social support programs that are designed to control it and help these people function in society in a normal way. There are, however, those who have doubt on the effectiveness of using social support to treat or manage these conditions. Kiesler argues that the problems need to be solved before social support strategies are employed. He states that if the relationship between support and health were attributable to influences of personality on both health and support only then social support intervention would be fruitless (Kiesler B., & .et al., 1981). Though personality may offer a better explanation than support in certain situations, there has been consensus that personality is not accountable to all sources and functions of social support. Research carried out shows that there are relations between support and well-being on some functions, but not others. This relationship depends on population, and the circumstances (Cohen & Hoberman, 1983; Seeman, 1984). For the second question raised on whether personality plays a role in determining support levels, it would be wrong to make assumptions that the availability of support is determined solely by the social surroundings. Personality factors that are associated with sociability must be considered and play a crucial role in development of social networks in view of support availability maintenance and mobilization of support (Heller & Swindle, 1983). In summation, personality factors are vital in the development of a person’s personality. People in strong support groups will tend to have more postively adapted personalities than those who lack social support.

Social support and Recovery from Diseases (Illness)[edit]

The relationship between social support and recovery from physical illness may be viewed based on how support affects the health behavior and or the mobilization of the immune system. The information a person receives from others about proper health care and managing illnesses may have an influence on perceived and actual ability of a person to make conscious health related decisions. This may include non-professional patient care, which may have a direct impact on the well-being of the patient and information received from peers may be used to make decisions on complying with medical regimens and performance of health care behaviors. Social support has also been claimed to help improve the immune system of a person. This is achieved by having a feeling of belonging, elevated sense of worth, and security engendered by social support (Jemmot & Locke, 1984). The support induced by elevations in self esteem, the ability to cope, and motivation to get well have been claimed to help in mental health recovery by influencing the emotional and cognitive states associated with the disorder or by increasing compliance with medical regimens (Kiecolt-Glaser & et al., 2002). It is likely that the role of social support in both etiology and recovery are, to some degree, similarly mediated. On both cases, support may influence health through the promotion of self-care and immunologic competence. Future work on how support can help achieve the goals of recovery from disease should be structured or focus on these mediators and on the emotional and psychological states that trigger these mechanisms. This work should also recognise that support is a complex concept that can only be understood when research is designed to investigate specific conceptions of support that are theoretically linked to the process under consideration.

Social Support and Learning[edit]

Social support is necessary in psychological learning since it eases the clients understanding of certain disorders and their role in health maintenance. There are specific learning styles that help clients in poor health to discover their responsibilities and thereby lessening the apprehension and uncertainty that often goes together with a therapeutic regime. Research shows that individual behavior has an effect on the inspiration of people to take on that specific behavior (Lakey, 2010). People wish to evade adverse consequences while desiring promising ones. If one anticipates a positive consequence from a behavior or believes that there is a high possibility of a positive result, then the chances of that person engaging in that behavior are very high. Since this behavior is reinforced with promising outcomes, then this makes a person more likely to repeat that behavior. Social support and learning in psychology is determined by both psychological and environmental factors. Social learning in psychology outlines three conditions for persons to learn and model their actions. These include attention, maintenance, reproduction, and motivation (Lakey, 2010).

Social Support theories linked to Health[edit]

Several theories have been proposed to explain the effects of social support in the field of health. One of these theories explains how social support helps persons to deal with stressing occasions, the other explains how it can be used to sustain wellbeing, and the last theory explains how it can become part of a changing personality profile all through a person’s life. The central theory is stress and coping social support theory, which tries to explain the buffering effect in stress and social support (Cohen & Wills, 1985). This theory assumes that social support shields people from adverse health effects of traumatic events by influencing how they reason and deal with these events. According to this theory, activities are only stressful if people are pessimistic and cope with the events inefficiently. Coping in this theory comprises of planned conscious activities such as relaxation. The theory is evident in researches dealing with the effect of stress buffering on social support. The major drawback facing the theory is that it cannot be applied to enacted support since this support does not lead to better health effects (Barrera, 1986; Uchino, 2009).

In Life span theory, Uchino tries to explain the trait-like feature that links social support to physical health (Uchino, 2009). The theory asserts that social support grows all through a person’s life span, especially in childhood connection with parents. According to this theory, social support grows in tandem with individual characteristics such as low aggression, low neuroticism, and high hopefulness as well as social and adaptive skills. When brought together, support and other personality effects influence health by improving health practices such as weight management and avoiding health related stressors such as divorce. The theory is evident in that perceived support comprises of individual traits and is connected to adaptive personality features and connection experiences (Lakey, 2010), (Uchino, 2009).

The last theory is the regulation theory, which focuses on the relational aspect of alleged support and explains the effects of perceived support in mental health (Lakey & Orehek, 2011). Perceived support is relational, and research shows that there is a weak relationship between this support and enacted support. This means that the relationship between perceived social support and psychological health is based on other procedures besides stress and the ability to cope. It is thus hypothesised that people control their sentiments through ordinary discussions and shared events. This regulation is considered relational since the providers, discussion topics and actions that help control emotions are an aspect of personal taste(Lakey & Orehek 2011), (Lakey, 2010).


In this chapter, we examined the role of social support in goal achievement. We found that people live happy lives when they experience high levels of social support. Our findings suggest that when people seek to improve their lives, then they should not overlook social support. A multiple level of social support, that is, support from different persons, is necessary in goal achievement. This is because those with only one source of social support tend to feel unsupported when their social supporters are out of their reach.


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