Perceived effectiveness of grief comforting messages moderated by closeness
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As helpful as social support can be, the reality is that some attempts to offer support are more helpful than others. In trying to be supportive, we can make things better, but we can also make things worse (Brashers et al., 2004; Burleson & Samter, 1985; Goldsmith, Lindholm, & Bute, 2006; Goldsmith & Fitch, 1997). In everyday situations, simply bringing up a sensitive topic may cause negative emotions for a conversational partner or remind them of a topic that they are trying not to think about. In addition, it is possible to say something that makes a person feel worse about the way they are handling a delicate situation. This dissertation applies Burleson and Samter’s (1985) social support framework, a model of Verbal Person Centeredness (VPC), to the context of grief. This dissertation examines what types of grief support are most effective, and looks at whether, in some instances, more sophisticated message are not the most comforting. This dissertation will examine whether closeness operates as a moderator, making moderately sophisticated messages of support more effective than highly sophisticated ones in some situations, such as instances in which the person offering support is less close to the bereaved. It is hypothesized that this will happen due to threats to the bereaved’s sense of independence or autonomy (Brown & Levinson, 1987). Hence, in some instances, it may be more helpful for people offering support to use moderately sophisticated messages. Although experimental data from this dissertation did not support an interaction between closeness of target and helper and perceived effectiveness of support message, data from open-ended questions did suggest that individuals prefer moderately sophisticated messages from less close others (e.g., coworkers). Other themes from open-ended questions provide additional details about the type of support people in grief might desire.