The relationship between online social support and psychological wellbeing: A random survey in Maldives and New Zealand
Background Previous research has repeatedly established that ‘in-person’ (offline) social support, both perceived and actual, is associated with psychological wellbeing. However, the growing literature on the relationship between social support acquired from social networking sites (SNSs) and psychological wellbeing is less clear. Some studies have reported a positive association between online perceived social support and psychological wellbeing, but these studies were based predominantly on convenience samples of college students primarily from the United States and Asia. Objectives The objectives of the current study were, using randomly a selected community sample from two diverse cultures and a small convenience clinical sample to: 1) contribute to the growing literature on the association between SNS use and psychological wellbeing; 2) study how SNS usage is associated with people’s online perceived social support while controlling for key factors including online self-disclosure, age, gender, personality traits, country of residence, and urban versus rural living; 3) examine relationships between online perceived social support and psychological wellbeing and to compare the strength of the statistical association of this relationship to traditional ‘in-person’ or offline perceived social support; 4) examine the moderating effects of key demographic and personality variables in the relationships between time spent on SNSs, online social support, offline social support, online self-disclosure and psychological wellbeing. 5) address some of the methodological limitations in the emerging literature on the use of SNS, online social support, and psychological wellbeing; and to 6) contribute to cross-cultural psychological research by comparing the effects of online and offline perceived social support on psychological wellbeing in two diverse national ethnic groupings. Methods Using a quantitative cross-sectional survey of randomly selected community samples from New Zealand, (N = 385) and Maldives, (N = 411), this study evaluated the association between online perceived social support and psychological wellbeing, using carefully selected best measures available at the time. The study hypotheses were also tested on a third sample, a small convenience clinical sample from New Zealand, (N = 78) for comparison with the general population groups. Results The multivariable regression analyses show that time spent on online SNSs, particularly engaging in online self-disclosure, was positively related to online perceived social support in both New Zealand and Maldives random community samples. Although time spent on SNSs was positively associated with online perceived social support in the New Zealand clinical sample after controlling for demographic and personality variables, online self-disclosure was not significantly associated with online perceived social support in this group. Time spent on SNSs was not significantly associated with psychological wellbeing in any of the sample groups. Also, higher levels of perceived social support from online interaction were not associated with better psychological wellbeing in any of the three sample groups. In contrast to perceived online social support, perceived social support from offline social networks was positively associated with psychological wellbeing in both New Zealand and Maldives random community samples. In the clinical sample, unlike in the general population samples, the results showed only a marginally significant positive association between offline perceived social support and psychological wellbeing. Conclusions This study’s finding that traditional offline social support is significantly associated with better psychological wellbeing aligns with the robust general literature that has shown social support to be a strong predictor of psychological wellbeing. The additional new finding from this work suggests that online perceived social support is not as beneficial as offline perceived social support in its association with psychological wellbeing. These results confirm the importance of real-life social support derived from offline social networks in psychological wellbeing. The role of social support derived online did not add measurably to psychological wellbeing levels but neither did it detract from that link. A range of factors are identified for future cross-sectional research to further explore the relationship between SNS use and psychological wellbeing. Future research could benefit from well-designed measures of online social support using longitudinal study designs to address causal relationships between online social support and psychological wellbeing.
Advisor: Bell, Elliot; Romans, Sarah; Sim, Dalice
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Department of Psychological Medicine, UOW
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Maldives; New Zealand; online social networking; online social support; psychological wellbeing
Research Type: Thesis