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Moderators in the relationship between social contact and psychological distress among widowed adults

Archived Abstract of Former PSC Researcher

Ha, Jung-Hwa, and Berit Ingersoll-Dayton. 2011. "Moderators in the relationship between social contact and psychological distress among widowed adults." Aging and Mental Health, 15(3): 354-63.

OBJECTIVES: This study examines: (1) the effect of widowed persons' frequency of contact with friends and relatives on their depressive and grief symptoms six months following spousal loss and (2) the extent to which the effects of social contact are contingent upon the degree of emotional support received from these relationships and the congruence between widowed persons' preferred and actual levels of social contact.

METHOD: Analyses are based on the Changing Lives of Older Couples (CLOC) study, a prospective study of a two-stage area probability sample of 1532 married men and women aged 65 or older. Depressive and grief symptoms, six months after spousal loss, were regressed on social contact, support, and congruence between preferred and actual social contact.

RESULTS: Frequency of contact did not have a significant influence on psychological distress when contextual factors are controlled. Social support and the incongruence between preferred and actual social contact were significantly associated with decreased psychological distress for several outcomes. As for the moderating effects of social support and incongruence on the link between social contact and distress, those who had high social contact and high social support experienced less anger and fewer intrusive thoughts than their counterparts; and those who had low social contact but preferred high social contact experienced greater anger.

CONCLUSION: The findings highlight the importance of understanding the quality of widowed persons' relationships as well as the congruence between their preferred and actual social contact.

Country of focus: United States.

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