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Connecting networks of friends can increase feelings of support

The best emotional outcomes are likely to arise when close connections all get along

Photo (c) marchmeena29 - Getty Images
Having a strong social network can yield several physical and mental health benefits for consumers, and now a new study is exploring what makes some friends feel more supported than others. 

According to researchers from Ohio State University, consumers are most likely to feel supported when their closest contacts all know and like each other. 

“The more cohesive, the more dense this network you have, the more you feel you can rely on them for support,” said researcher David Lee. “It matters if your friends can depend on each other, just like you depend on them.” 

Making the most of social connections

The researchers conducted two online studies to determine how consumers best felt supported by their friends and family. In one study, 240 participants were asked to make two lists of the people closest to them based on those who knew each other and those who didn’t know each other. They were then given a hypothetical scenario in which they’d need to reach out to one of the two groups for support in the case of an emergency. 

Participants reported that they’d feel more supported by the group that knew each other rather than the group that was unconnected. The researchers explained that there could be several reasons for this trend, but one of the primary takeaways is that connected support networks are often viewed as just that: connected. Rather than thinking of each friend or family member individually, thinking of them as a group yields more support. 

“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,” said researcher Jonathan Stahl. 

The second study had over 330 participants list the eight people they felt the closest to and how supported they felt by each connection. To understand how support can shift depending on the interconnectedness of those on the lists, the participants also ranked how close each connection was to each other. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that closeness between support systems once again played a role, as the participants rated connections as more supportive when they were close with other friends or family on the list. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope that consumers understand how beneficial it can be to have groups of family and friends spend time together and feel close to one another, because this is a key component in feeling loved and supported. 

“We found that our support networks are more than the sum of their parts,” said researcher Joseph Bayer. “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.” 

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