Social Support, Psychosocial Resources And Eating: Using Social Media To Encourage Healthy Eating

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Scholars have suggested that social support provides people with psychosocial resources that help them cope with aversive or challenging stimuli by reducing negative arousal and altering the way they perceive the physical world. These resources are elicited when social support contacts are physically present, or when people are primed to think about social support. This research tested the hypothesis that a minimal social support prime, specifically the communicative act of sending a text message to a friend via social media, would elicit psychosocial resources to reduce negative arousal elicited by the challenge of healthy eating and in turn help people make healthier eating decisions. In addition, this dissertation explored the question of whether a social support prime would also counteract the effect of stress on eating, helping people make healthier eating decisions. An initial empirical study was used to explore the hypotheses and research question and demonstrated that a social media prime for social support led people to eat less unhealthy food, but this was not the case when a person was stressed. A second study explored the thought processes elicited by the social media social support prime and stress manipulation from the first study to explain the pattern of eating observed in the first study. This study demonstrated that stress and the social support prime made thoughts of food more cognitively accessible. These studies contribute to the literature on psychosocial resources and social support, computer-mediated communication, and stress and eating in several ways. First this research demonstrates that psychosocial resources provided by social support have the power to impact behavior. Second, this work suggests that a minimal social media prime has the power to elicit the same psychosocial resources as more intense social support primes and physically present social support contacts. Third, this work marks the first study to explore the thought processes behind the psychosocial resources elicited by social support. This research also contributes to the CMC literature by demonstrating that people adapt to their communication environment, even in the absence of communication. Finally, this research contributes to the literature on stress and eating by testing a social support prime as a mechanism for reducing the impact of stress on eating.

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social support; social media; health


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Union Local


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Hancock, Jeffrey T.
Hancock, Jeffrey T.

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Yuan, Yu
Byrne, Sahara E.
Byrne, Sahara E.
Yuan, Yu
Regan, Dennis Thomas

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Ph. D., Communication

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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