Abstract: Social Support and Social Isolation among College Students

◆ William A. Bejarano, Rutgers University

The availability and procurement of social support has been studied as both a potential buffer in stressful situations and a direct link to indicators of well being in the communication literature (MacGeorge, Feng, & Burleson, 2011). Social isolation is a related factor that is potentially confounding. Though it is often negatively associated with social capital and its many benefits (Locher et al., 2005), and has been found to be associated with harmful mental health indicators such as suicidal ideation and self-harm (Endo et al., 2017), it is a construct that appears much more frequently in the sociological literature than in that of communication. While previous studies have made broad associations between these related phenomena, this study puts them in direct association with one another, unpacking their multidimensional constructs among college students (N=234). Social support has been sub-divided into the different categories of emotional, tangible, esteem, informational, and network support, while isolation has been found to have both internal and external factors. With some studies showing a decline in primary close relationships over the past two to three decades, the focus in this study is on the support garnered from a single relationship that an individual identifies as his or her most intimate.
Findings indicate a strong association between social support and well being, and that support levels are impacted by gender and well-being indicators are impacted by the inclusion of a close confidant in one’s life. Among college students, the procurement of social support from one’s closest relationship plays a relevant and direct role in an individual’s sense of well being, even when controlling for measures of social isolation, supporting the direct effects hypothesis. Of three measures of well being, social support is associated most strongly with a reduction of loneliness, more so than with an increase in satisfaction or relatedness, though the latter are also significantly associated. These significant associations remain even when broken into the five social support types, indicating that all types of social support are directly beneficial in a general sense. It was also found that both gender and the type of relationship one considers closest each play significant roles in the amount and type of support one receives. Females receive more social support on the whole than males, and naming a platonic friend as one’s closest relationship is associated with less emotional and tangible support than the other types. Perhaps least surprisingly, being able to clearly and unequivocally name a person in one’s life to whom one can discuss personal or intimate matters is a clear indicator of significantly higher levels of well-being on all three measures.