Social Support

Social support is one of the important functions of social relationships. Social support is always intended by the sender to be helpful, thus distinguishing it from intentional negative interactions (such as angry criticism, hassling, undermining). Social support is commonly categorized into four types of behaviors.

Four Types of Supportive Behaviors

  1. Emotional
  2. Instrumental
  3. Informational
  4. Appraisal

The ways in which types of social support differ may best be illustrated using an example.

Example: A 39-year-old graduate student and mother of 2 young children is feeling overwhelmed after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Types of Social Support

Construct Definition Application
Emotional Expressions of empathy, love, trust and caring Close friends and family members provide hope and a listening ear
Instrumental Tangible aid and service Her husband decides to work from home 2 days per week to baby-sit the children while she attends her chemotherapy
Informational Advice, suggestions, and information Doctors provide facts about breast cancer and guidance during the treatment process Her mother offers advice about her own chemotherapy treatment 3 years prior
Appraisal Information that is useful for self-evaluation A close friend of 15 years reminds her of all of the qualities that equip her to "beat" breast cancer (to encourage an accurate assessment of her current situation)