A vast body of literature has been dedicated to the study of social support and satisfaction. Social support is commonly viewed as one of the most important concepts of close personal relationships (Gottlieb & Wagner). Social support can be defined as the perception that others are alert and quick to respond to one's needs and that the individual is loved, valued, and taken care of and belongs to a social network (Wills, 1991). Empirical evidence strongly suggests that social support networks have the ability to make individuals feel better about themselves and increase emotional and physical health (Burleson & Mortenson, 2003; Sarason, Sarason, & Gurung, 1997).
Research suggests that under certain situations, perceived social support is actually a better predictor of satisfaction and adjustment, compared to actual social support (Wethington & Kessler, 1986). As long as individuals believe that they have at least one person who would support them, they enjoy the same benefits that a large support system would provide. Perceived social support can often times appear more beneficial than actual support for individuals because the thought alone that someone cares for that individual is enough to help comfort the person and relieve stress (Taylor, Sherman, Kim, Jarcho, Takagi, & Dunagan, 2004). Actual social support can have negative implications for those seeking support. Support that is considered pushy and invasive can actually act as a contributing stressor (Shumaker & Hill, 1991). Actual support can also be negative when the support provided does not match the needs of the recipient (Cohen & Wills, 1985).
While there is an extensive body of research dedicated to this topic, little attention has been paid to the influence of cultural beliefs and values when assessing perceptions of social support and satisfaction (Goodwin & Plaza, 2000; Burleson & Mortenson, 2003). Specifically, this study will look at the influence of individualistic and collectivistic value systems. The methods by which individuals choose to seek out and utilize social support can greatly depend on the how they view their support networks (Taylor, Sherman, Kim, Jarcho, Takagi, & Dunagan, 2004). While some studies have looked at how individualists and collectivists differ in seeking social support (Taylor et al., 2004), there has been very little research examining the differences in satisfaction due to social support. Furthermore, in many of the studies previously conducted, these values sets have not explicitly been measured, only assumed based on the culture and ethnic backgrounds of the participants (Dunkel-Schetter, Sagrestano, Feldman, & Killingsworth, 1996; Hofstede, 1980). Only a handful of research studies have examined collectivism and individualism in the context of social support and satisfaction. Burleson & Mortenson assert that individualists and collectivists may differ in how their structure their social support networks and the types of social support they consider helpful and beneficial.
Since collectivistic cultures emphasize interdependence among group members, these people should favor closer, more integrated social support networks (Triandis, McCusker, & Hui, 1990). Conversely, individualistic cultures are characterized by personal freedom and choice, so individualists should prefer looser, less integrated support networks (Hofstede, 1991). Goodwin and Plaza (2000) suggest that closely integrated support systems are crucial for the satisfaction of collectivists and loosely integrated support systems for that of individualists. These findings sit at the core of the present study. Few studies examine whether satisfaction with support networks can accurately predict overall life satisfaction within a cultural context. This project will investigate whether individualists and collectivists differ in satisfaction with regards to their social support networks and whether that will predict life satisfaction.
It is hypothesized that the density and integration of an individual's social support networks will be positively associated with life satisfaction. However, this relation will differ depending on whether the individual sees himself/herself as collectivistic or individualistic. For individuals who are collectivistic, social support will be positively correlated with overall life satisfaction, only when they perceive their social support networks to be close and highly integrated. On the contrary, for those who are individualistic, this form of social support will be negatively related to satisfaction, such that denser, more integrated social support networks will result in less satisfaction for these individuals. It is expected that individualists will be more satisfied with their social support network when they are looser and less integrated. As a result, they should report greater life satisfaction.