Friends and Lifesavers

How Social Capital and Social Support Received in Media Environments Contribute to Well-Being

Authored by: Sabine Trepte , Michael Scharkow

The Routledge Handbook of Media Use and Well-Being

Print publication date:  July  2016
Online publication date:  June  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138886582
eBook ISBN: 9781315714752
Adobe ISBN: 9781317501954


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Social capital and social support are known to be among the most effectual variables when it comes to well-being and satisfaction with life. Previous research from social psychology has shown that social support is a crucial buffering factor for critical life events such as chronic illnesses, immigration, or other forms of physical and psychological stress (Gleason & Iida, 2015). In communication, social media are at the heart of research on the interplay of well-being, media use, and social support, because they provide their users with multiple ways to communicate with, befriend, and mutually support each other (Ellison & Vitak, 2015; Utz, 2014). This chapter first reviews the theoretical background of social capital and social support and elaborates the differences and commonalities between both concepts. The measurement of social capital and social support in mediated contexts emerged as a crucial problem of research on these topics for several reasons, and we provide sample measures and discuss their benefits and problems. Based on the two concepts’ disciplinary background, we suggest different hypotheses of how media use, social support, social capital, and well-being are linked theoretically, and review current research accordingly. Two strands of research currently dominate the field, and both are referred to in the remainder of the chapter: The first deals with social support in everyday circumstances and mostly addresses support provision in the context of social media. The second addresses social support and social capital in times of personal crisis such as during illness, which is frequently exchanged in online support forums. Finally, beyond describing the limits of current research, our discussion identifies new ways to approach the triangle of social support/social capital, media use, and well-being in future research.

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