Schwarzer, R., Freie Universitt Berlin, Germany
A conceptual and selective review on the relationship between social support and illness and death will be presented. Mental and physical health is not only determined by biological factors but also by social and psychological factors. For decades, epidemiological studies have linked mortality rates to marital status and social networks, thus indicating a benificial effect of such social factors on longevity. Moreover, studies on patients have attributed high survival rates to the existence of close social bonds. In the case of conjugal loss, for example, widowers are at risk for illness and death if they do not have a compensating network of support providers. Psychology is looking for the mediating mechanisms that help explain such epidemiological associations. For this purpose, social support is distinguished from social integration, and further differentiations are made to better understand the quality and function of interaction processes that result in favorable health outcomes. In the etiology of disease, physiological, behavioral, and psychological pathways are distinguished that make a difference in how people respond to stressful encounters and critical life changes.