Introduction: Perceived Social Support (PSS) is protective against depression. However the nature of the relationship may vary across the lifespan. Socioemotional Selectivity Theory suggests emotional regulation is the key function of social engagement in older age, with information and self-concept being more important functions in emerging adulthood; thus emotional PSS (ESS) may be a stronger influence on depression in older than younger people. Erikson’s psychosocial theory suggests subtypes of ESS might prove important at different lifestages; emotionally meaningful contact being more important in older, affection and fun in younger people.
Objectives: To investigate the contributions of ESS and its components to models of depression in older and emerging adults.
Method: A survey, with data from 74 older and 538 emerging adults, was employed.
Results: Emotionally-linked items from the MOS Social Support Survey were administered online. The same two-factor structure emerged for both groups – availability of confidant and affection & fun. Controlling for sex, perceived stress and personality, total ESS contributed significantly to the models of both age groups; but more strongly to the older. When the ESS subscales were treated separately, both were found to contribute approximately equal amounts to the depression model of emerging adults; availability of confidant emerged as a stronger predictor in older adults.
Conclusion: ESS is an important predictor of depression throughout the lifespan, but more so in
older than in emerging adults. Availability of confidant is particularly relevant in older age, while
affection and fun are of similar importance in both age groups.