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Ohio State study: It helps when your friends are pals

Special to the Legal News

Published: October 26, 2020

A new study that looked at the individual support networks of participants found that people generally feel like those networks are even stronger when friends, family and coworkers are interconnected themselves.
“The more cohesive, the more dense this network you have, the more you feel you can rely on them for support,” said lead researcher David Lee, a former Ohio State University postdoctoral fellow in psychology. “It matters if your friends can depend on each other, just like you depend on them.”
Lee, now an assistant professor of communication at the University at Buffalo, conducted the study with Joseph Bayer, assistant professor of communication, and Jonathan Stahl, graduate student in psychology, both at Ohio State.
Published recently online in Social Psychology Quarterly, researchers found in one study of 339 people that the denser the support network, the more support participants expected.
Participants were asked to list eight people in their lives that they could go to for support in the last six months, a press release detailed. They, then, rated on a scale of 1 to 7 how much support they received from each person.
Participants also were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 7 how close each possible pair of their eight supporters were to each other.
Researchers calculated the density of each participant’s network.
“We found that our support networks are more than the sum of their parts,” Bayer said.
“People who feel they have more social support in their lives may be focusing more on the collective support they feel from being part of a strong, cohesive group. It’s having a real crew, as opposed to just having a set of friends.”
A second study of 240 people examined whether the density of a social network mattered in a specific situation in which people needed help.
In this case, participants were asked to list two different groups of four people they could go to if they needed support. One group comprised four people who were not close to one another and the other group consisted of four people who were close with each other.
Participants were then asked to imagine a scenario in which their house had been broken into and they went to their network for support.
Half the people were told to think about going to the four people who were not close to one another, while the other half imagined reaching out to their four connected supporters.
Results found those who imagined going to their tight-knit group of friends or family perceived that they would receive more support than did participants who thought about going to their unconnected friends.
Researchers said results also offered preliminary evidence of two psychological mechanisms that could help explain why people feel better supported by a tight-knit group of friends.
In answers to survey questions, participants suggested that they thought of their group of close friends or family as one entity.
They also were more likely to see a closer-knit group as part of their own identities. Both of these factors were related to perceiving more support, results showed.
The researchers said the results of both studies show it isn’t just the number of friends and family you have in your network that is important.
“You can have two friends who are both very supportive of you, but if they are both friends with each other, that makes you feel even more supported,” Stahl said.
On a practical level, that means it is important which friends we think about when we most need help or when we are feeling lonely in the midst of daily life.
“Focus on those friends who are connected to each other,” Bayer said. “That’s where we really perceive the most support.”
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