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Rook, K., G. Luong, D. Sorkin, J. Newsom, and Neal Krause. 2012. "Ambivalent versus problematic social ties: implications for psychological health, functional health, and interpersonal coping." Psychology and Aging, 27(4): 912-23.
Older adults often seek to manage their social networks to foster positive interactions, but they nonetheless sometimes experience negative interactions that detract from their health and well-being. Negative interactions may occur with ambivalent social partners (i.e., partners involved in both positive and negative exchanges) or exclusively problematic social partners (i.e., partners involved in negative exchanges only), but conflicting views exist in the literature regarding which type of social partner is likely to be more detrimental to older adults' physical and emotional health. This study examined the implications of the two kinds of network members for physical and psychological health and interpersonal coping responses in a representative sample of 916 older adults. Analyses revealed that ambivalent social ties were more strongly related to functional health limitations than were exclusively problematic social ties, whereas problematic ties were more consistently related to psychological health than were ambivalent ties. Furthermore, negative exchanges that occurred with exclusively problematic social ties, compared to those that occurred with ambivalent social ties, were associated with more avoidant and fewer conciliatory coping responses, stronger and longer-lasting negative emotions, and lower perceived coping effectiveness. Within this elderly sample, older age was associated with having fewer ambivalent and exclusively problematic kin ties. A comprehensive understanding of the significance of social network ties in older adults' lives may benefit not only from attention to sources of social support but also from efforts to distinguish between different sources of conflict and disappointment.
NIHMSID: NIHMS451219. (Pub Med Central)