British Journal of Social Psychology (2004), 43, 1–10
© 2004 The British Psychological Society
Social support and its consequences: ‘Positive’
and ‘deﬁciency’ values and their implications for
support and self-esteem
Robin Goodwin*, Patricia Cost and Joseph Adonu
Brunel University, UK
Recent research on social support has suggested that there may be only a weak
correlation between perceived and received (enacted) support, with the former best
seen as a stable, personality-like trait. This study investigates the relationship between
individual values, self-esteem and perceived and received support, with samples
taken from four nations (the UK, Portugal, Ghana and Mozambique). Respondents
completed Schwartz’s Portrait Values Questionnaire (Schwartz, Melech, Lehmann,
Burgess, & Harris, 2001) and measures of self-esteem and perceived and received
support. The values explained more than twice the variance for perceived compared
with received support, with those scoring high on stimulation, hedonism and benevo-
lence, and low on tradition, conformity and security, reporting greater perceived
support. In path analyses, values signiﬁcantly predicted perceived support and per-
ceived support predicted self-esteem, but there was no direct relationship between
values and self-esteem. These ﬁndings are discussed in the light of current debates on
the role of values in the promotion of prosocial behaviour.
Over the past three decades, social support has become a major topic for social
psychological investigation (Sarason, Sarason, & Gurung, 1997). Defined as ‘social
interactions or relationships that provide individuals with actual assistance or with a
feeling of attachment to a person or group that is perceived as loving or caring’
(Hobfoll & Stokes, 1988, p. 499), such support has been viewed as ‘one of the basic
building blocks of social, psychological and biological integrity’ (Hobfoll, Freedy, Lane,
& Geller, 1990, p. 466). Both formal and informal support networks have been seen
as a central component of an individual’s ‘social capital’, a valuable resource that
contributes to better health chances (Cattell, 2001).
One important theoretical distinction in the support literature has been between an
individual’s perception of support and the actual support that he/she receives follow-
ing a stressful event (Barrera, 1986; Dunkel-Schetter & Bennett, 1990). These two types
of support are usually only weakly correlated, and may have very different outcomes
*Correspondence should be addressed to Robin Goodwin, Department of Human Sciences, Brunel University, Uxbridge,
Middlesex, UB8 3PH, UK. (e-mail: Robin.Goodwin@brunel.ac.uk).
2 Robin Goodwin et al.
not only for the support provided but for the psychological consequences of such
support (Barrera, 1986; Schwarzer & Leppin, 1991). Whilst both measures of
support usually reflect an individual’s perceptions of support provision (Barrera, 1986),
received support describes the actions actually performed by others when offering
assistance (Barrera, 1986) – indeed received support is sometimes termed actual
support. In contrast, perceived support may be best seen as a stable, individual differ-
ence variable characteristic (Pierce, Sarason, & Sarason, 1990; Sarason, Sarason, &
Shearin, 1986). The perception of support is likely to emerge from supportive child-
hood attachment experiences which develop into ‘relationship schema’ that include
the perception of being valued and cared for by others (Bowlby, 1980; Lakey, McCabe,
Fisicaro, & Drew, 1996; Pierce et al., 1990; Sarason et al., 1997). Such a sense of
‘relationship well-being’ then forms one part of a holistic, socio-cognitive model of the
self likely to include a number of other, relatively stable, individual-level characteristics
(Sarason et al., 1997). Work on appraisal (e.g. Lazarus, 1991) and individual differences
(e.g. Amirkhan, Risinger, & Swickert, 1995) suggests that an individual’s values and
personality play a key role in the decision to seek support from others.
The first part of this paper combines attachment and socio-cognitive approaches to
explore the relationship between one set of relatively stable individual characteristics –
individual-level values – and perceived and received social support. For this study we
draw on a recently devised circumplex model of values, whose structure has
been verified in more than 70 cultures (Schwartz, 1992; Schwartz, Melech, Lehmann,
Burgess, & Harris, 2001). Defining values as ‘desirable transsituational goals... that
serve as guiding principles in the life of a person or other social entity’ (Schwartz,
1994, p. 21), these values reflect ‘what people consider important in their lives’
(Roccas, Sagiv, Schwartz, & Knafo, 2002), and the biological and social needs of
individuals which emerge when members of a group interact (Schwartz, 1994). The
model can be organized along two main dimensions: (i) openness to change (indepen-
dent thought and action and the seeking of novelty and excitement, reflected in the
values of self-direction and stimulation) versus conservatism (conformity, tradition and
security) and (ii) self-transcendence (universalism and benevolence) versus self-
enhancement (achievement and power). A final value type, hedonism, is related to
both dimensions.1 Psychotherapeutic research, and work on need-fulfilment, suggests
that the particular values of stimulation, self-direction, universalism and benevolence
are positive, healthy and ‘growth-related’ values, held by people generally satisfied
with their lives (reviewed in Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000). Those high on stimulation,
hedonism and benevolence are also likely to be extraverts (Roccas et al., 2002) –
sociable individuals who enjoy and make use of larger social networks (Amirkhan
et al., 1995) and who seek help as a coping mechanism (McCrae & Costa, 1986). These
positive values contrast with the more ‘deficiency-based’ characteristics emphasized by
those high on security, conformity and tradition. These latter values are characteristic
of the more self-obsessed individual who is both lower on psychological well-being and
who lacks the emotional resources necessary to interact positively with others (Sagiv &
Schwartz, 2000). However, as noted above, the relationship between individual values
and social support may depend on the type of support measured. The perception of
support forms part of a more generalized sense of relationship well-being likely to be
predicted by an individual’s values. In contrast, the actual receipt of support is more
See Schwartz (1992) for more detailed deﬁnitions of these values.
Social support and its implications 3
closely allied to the broader social context in which the support is set, influenced by
more ‘macro’-level factors such as housing policies and neighbourhood organization
(Vaux, 1985). As such, actual support received is less likely to be related to individual
What are the consequences of these different forms of support for other psychologi-
cal aspects of the self? According to Sarason et al. (1997), working models of the self
may not only reflect perceptions of support availability but also notions of personal
worthiness. The second half of the paper examines the relationships between values,
social support and self-esteem. Evidence from social cognition research suggests that
organized beliefs about support help frame critical cognitions about the self, including
an individual’s self-esteem (House, 1981; Lakey et al., 1996; Lakey & Cassady, 1990),
and we anticipate a significant correlation between support perception and self-
esteem. In contrast, the actual receipt of support from others may have a far more
ambiguous effect on self-esteem. Theories of equity (e.g. Clark, Gotay, & Mills, 1974)
and reactance (Brehm, 1966) predict that unrequited help may be disturbing, with
those high in self-esteem often being highly sensitive to the threatening aspects of help
from others (Amirkhan et al., 1995; Nadler and Fisher, 1986). This is summed up in
Nadler and Fisher’s threat to self-esteem model, which claims that received aid is ‘a
mixed blessing, which includes negative, self-threatening and positive, self-supportive
psychological elements’ (Nadler & Fisher, 1986, p. 89f., italics as original). Support for
this proposition was reported in a cross-cultural study conducted in Spain and the UK
(Goodwin & Hernandez-Plaza, 2000), which found the correlation between self-esteem
and perceived support to be significantly higher than that between self-esteem and
received support in both cultures. We therefore anticipated only a weak relationship
between received support and self-esteem.
Summary of hypotheses
In this paper we suggest several hypotheses. First we predict that individual values will
be significant predictors of perceived support, with the ‘positive’ values of stimulation,
hedonism, universalism and benevolence anticipated to lead to a perception of higher
social support from others, whilst those high on the ‘deficit values’ of tradition,
security, power and conformity are anticipated to perceive less support (Hypothesis
1). Second, because support received is anticipated to be determined more by environ-
mental factors than perceived support, values are expected to predict perceived sup-
port to a greater extent than they predict support received (Hypothesis 2). Finally,
drawing on previous psychotherapeutic and socio-cognitive research, we propose a
path model in which values predict perceived support and perceived support predicts
self-esteem (Hypothesis 3). We do not, however, anticipate such a strong positive
correlation between self-esteem and received support.
Participants and procedure
Participants were 275 undergraduate students, 56% male and 44% female, who com-
pleted the confidential questionnaires in their respective classes.Of our respondents,
70 were from Brunel University, England; 70 from Universidade Nova, Portugal; 64
from Universidade Eduardo Mondelhane, Mozambique; and 71 from the University of
4 Robin Goodwin et al.
Ghana, Ghana. Students ranged in age from a mean age of 19.5 in Portugal (SD 2.6) to
26.5 in Ghana (SD 5.2).
Participants completed four questionnaires and provided demographic information
on their age, sex and nationality. Schwartz’s Portrait Values Questionnaire (Version III:
Schwartz et al., 2001) measures the 10 individual values. The scale comprises 40 items,
with participants asked to rate how similar they are to a hypothetical individual on a
6-point scale (from ‘very much like me’ to ‘not at all like me’). A typical item was
‘he/she thinks it is important to do things the way he/she learned from his/her family;
he/she wants to follow their customs and traditions’. Self-esteem was assessed using
Rosenberg’s (1965) Self-Esteem scale, a widely-used measure which has previously
been used with African student samples (Stones, Heaven, & Bester, 1997). This
measure assesses personal feelings about the self on 5-point Likert scales, with scale
end-points ranging from ‘absolutely not true’ to ‘absolutely true’. A typical item was ‘ I
take a positive attitude towards myself’.
Social support was assessed by using two of the most widely used measures of
perceived and received support (Wills & Shinar, 2000). Perceived support was
measured using Cohen, Mermelstein, Kamarck, and Hoberman’s (1985) Interpersonal
Support Evaluation List (ISEL), a widely used 40-item scale assessing perceived
appraisal, emotional, esteem and tangible support, major dimensions in the assessment
of perceived support (Wills & Shinar, 2000). Respondents completed ten 4-point
Guttman scales for each subscale, with responses ranging from ‘definitely false’ to
‘definitely true’, with a typical item being ‘If I needed help mending something, there
is someone who would help me’ (measuring tangible support). This scale has been
shown to have high internal reliability in a wide range of cultures (e.g. Goodwin,
Nizharadze, Nguyen Luu, & Emelyanova, 2001) and has been widely used in studies of
ethnicity and culture (Vaux, 1985). Overall reliability indices are typically around .90
for the full scale and from .70 to .80 for its subscales (Wills & Shinar, 2000). Received
support was measured using Barrera and Ainley’s (1983) Inventory of Socially Support-
ive Behaviors (ISSB). This 40-item measure asked respondents to rate ‘how frequently
someone gave you the following help during the last month’ on a 5-point scale ranging
from ‘every day’ to ‘not at all’. This scale contains four subscales: directed guidance
support (14 items), non-directed support (10 items), positive social interaction (4
items) and tangible support (12 items), with a typical item asking how frequently
someone ‘comforted you by showing some physical affection’ (measuring non-directed
support). The scale has been widely used in etiological research and has typically
reported reliability indices of >.90 for the complete scale (Wills & Shinar, 2000) and of
around .80 for the individual subscales (e.g. Brock, Sarason, & Sarason (1996) report
subscale a values between .80 and .88). All items were translated and back-translated
using bilingual translators in each country and ‘decentred’ to allow for conceptual
differences in items across the samples (see Brislin, 1980). Internal reliabilities in this
study for the scales were generally acceptable for the measures of social support
(Cronbach’s a of .89 (ISEL), .95 (ISSB); a exceeded .80 for each of the four countries
for both measures), and for self-esteem (pan-cultural a = .76, ranging from .63 (Ghana)
to .87 (England)). For the measures of values, dimension reliabilities were also gener-
ally acceptable (.73 for conformity; .63 for benevolence; .75 for universalism; .68 for
hedonism; .64 for achievement; .64 for power; .78 for security), although, as is com-
mon with such short scales (Nunnally & Bernstein, 1994), a were lower for two of the
shorter value measures (for the 4-item tradition scale, a = .56 and the 3-item
self-direction scale, a = .43).
Social support and its implications 5
Figure 1. Correlation between Schwartz’s values and perceived and received social support.
First we considered the relationship between Schwartz’s values and perceived sup-
port.2 Figure 1 indicates the correlations for the relationship between the 10 values
and perceived and received support; to allow for individual response bias we com-
puted each individual’s total score on all values and used this score as a third variable
partialled out when conducting our correlational analyses (see Schwartz, 1992). We
hypothesized that individuals who scored high on the ‘positive’ values of stimulation,
hedonism, universalism and benevolence would perceive higher support from others,
whilst those high on the ‘deficit values’ of tradition, security, power and conformity
would perceive less support (Hypothesis 1). As anticipated, stimulation, hedonism and
benevolence were significant predictors of perceived support (rs (262) of .30 (p <
.01), .29 (p < .01) and .14 (p < .05), respectively), although there was no correlation
between universalism and support perception (r = .00). Those high on the ‘deficit
values’ of tradition, security, power and conformity were expected to perceive less
support. As hypothesized, tradition, security and conformity were all negatively corre-
lated with perceived support (rs (262) of −.26, −.20 and −.35, respectively, p < .01)
but there was no significant correlation between power and perceived support
(r = .06). In line with previous findings (e.g. Meehl, 1978), there was a positive, but
moderate, correlation between perceived and received support (r (265) = .37, p <
.001). Although the amounts of variance explained are relatively small, the 10 values
explained more than double the variance in perceived compared with received
support, supporting Hypothesis 2 (for perceived support R = .50, R2 adj. = .22; for
received support R = .31, R2 adj. = .09).
Second, we considered the relationship between selected values, support and self-
esteem. A new value dimension score was created by subtracting the ‘negative’ values
of tradition, security, power and conformity from the ‘positive’ self-direction, stimula-
tion, universalism, benevolence and hedonism values. Table 1 provides correlations
This paper reports a ‘pan-cultural’ analysis (Van de Vijver & Leung, 1997) in which data from all four sample groups
were analysed together. Although there were some differences between samples in our ﬁndings, these differences were
difﬁcult to interpret in a systematic manner and did not signiﬁcantly inﬂuence the overall pattern of results. Further details
are available from the ﬁrst author.
6 Robin Goodwin et al.
Figure 2. Path analysis of combined values as predictors of perceived support and self-esteem.
between the values dimension, perceived and received support, and self-esteem. We
tested the relationships between this value dimension score, the two kinds of support,
and self-esteem in two sets of regression analyses, using the tests for mediation sug-
gested by Baron and Kenny (1986). Our new value dimension was significantly corre-
lated with perceived support (r (263) = .12, p < .05), and a regression analysis with
values as the predictor and perceived support as the outcome showed a significant
correlation between the two (Fig. 2). Using self-esteem as the criterion variable and
values and perceived support as the predictors, we then demonstrated that perceived
support affects self-esteem, whilst the direct effect of the value dimension on self-
esteem is non-significant, suggesting at least partial mediation. We repeated this analy-
sis for received support. Here, our value dimension score failed to significantly predict
received support (b = .04, p > .10) suggesting the inappropriateness of a mediational
model. Received support was significantly correlated with self-esteem, although this
correlation was smaller than the relationship between perceived support and esteem
(b = .22, p < .001). Controlling for social support, there was no overall significant
relationship between the value dimension scores and self-esteem (b = .11, p > .10).
In this study we examined the relationship between values, and perceived and
received support, and self-esteem. Individual values accounted for more than twice
the variance in perceived when compared with received support, with stimulation,
hedonism and benevolence values positively related to perceived support; and
tradition, security and conformity negatively related to this support. Values were a
significant predictor of perceived social support, and support in turn predicted self-
esteem; but in path analyses which included both values and support, it was only
support that was the significant predictor of self-esteem.
Social support and its implications 7
Our first hypothesis examined the relationship between ‘positive’ and ‘deficiency-
based’ individual values and support perception. Our findings here support
psychodynamic research that suggests that those values that support assertive and
sociable interactions – such as stimulation, hedonism and benevolence – also predict a
perception of a healthy support network. In contrast, the ‘traditional values’ of tradi-
tion, security and conformity were correlated with lower levels of support perception
in particular, perhaps reflecting the ‘self-denigration’ often associated with such values
(Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000). Interestingly, these findings appear to run counter to other
work on values and support which uses personality indicators adopted from the
culture-level dimensions of individualism and collectivism. Such research suggests that
‘collectivist’ values, such as tradition and security, are characteristic of societies with
higher levels of support and, when held at the individual level, should predict an
individual with a strong support network, something not found in our study (see
Triandis, Leung, Villareal, & Clack, 1985). One interpretation for our findings is that
whilst a ‘collectivist’ individual might desire a large and integrative social network,
others in their social environment might not be so conducive to providing such
support. Instead, it may take a certain kind of individual with a particular kind of values
and a positive social outlook – someone high on stimulation and ‘fun’, and with a
warm, benevolent character– to form a large and active social network. Such findings
help underline the vexed relationship between individual and cultural levels of
analysis, currently a matter of some debate in the cross-cultural literature (Goodwin &
Giles, 2003; Smith, 2002).
The strong, positive relationship between perceived support and self-esteem, even
when controlling for individual values, is consistent with other findings working with
such variables (e.g. Goodwin & Hernandez-Plaza, 2000; Sarason et al., 1997). Although
our findings are based on cross-sectional data, and therefore causality cannot easily be
ascertained, our findings support other work within the socio-cognitive and
psychodynamic traditions which view relationship self schemata as a key part of the
wider self-concept (Sarason et al., 1997). In an analysis of the four subscales of our
perceived support scale, esteem support was the most predictive of self-esteem
(r (263) = .66,), with tangible support – the support form most limited by a supporter’s
resources – the weakest predictor of self-esteem (r (274) = .48). A complex bidirec-
tional set of appraisal and coping mechanisms influence support activitation (Heller,
Swindle, & Dusenbury, 1986; Hobfoll, 1988), and further research is now needed in
order to examine the relationship between self-esteem and different types of support
needs and provision over time (Cohen & Wills, 1985).
The present study inevitably suffers from a number of limitations. Our research was
conducted on a relatively small number of (comparatively young) undergraduate stu-
dents, a group that may not be reflective of their wider communities (Oyserman, Coon,
& Kemmelmeier, 2002; Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000). The scales employed in our study
were generally developed in Western settings for use with primarily Western partici-
pants: while these scales have been frequently used in the reported literature, the
development of further local (‘emic’) assessments of support may be particularly
important in the African setting if we are to check the replicability of our findings
(Fiske, 1991). Nevertheless, we believe that our results do have a number of potential
implications. High levels of perceived support have been shown to be a positive
predictor of both psychological and physiological well-being (Sarason et al., 1997),
particularly when the individual is under stress (Schwarzer & Leppin, 1991), and
therefore understanding the individual-level variables that underpin such support
8 Robin Goodwin et al.
perception is likely to be important. Recent laboratory research that asked participants
to generate reasons for a particular value was shown to augment provalue behaviour
(Maio, Olson, Allen, & Bernard, 2001), suggesting further experimental work where
directing cognitive attention towards the ‘positive’ social values discussed in this paper
may have subsequent consequences for supportive behaviours. In addition, large-scale
political and social events that act to change values (such as the attack on the World
Trade Centre in the USA, which increased security values; Verkasalo, Goodwin, &
Bezmenova, 2004) might be expected to have at least a temporary impact on the
supportive interactions of those most affected by these events (Vertzberger, 1997).
Understanding the impact of such value changes on everyday interactions offers social
psychologists a challenging new area for social research.
We would particularly like to thank Shalom Schwartz, Bas Verplanken and Greg Maio for their
advice on earlier versions of this paper.
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