The role of perceived social support and dysfunctional attitudes in predicting Taiwanese adolescents' depressive tendency.
The most widely used measure of cognitive vulnerability to depression is the Dysfunctional Attitudes Scale (DAS; Weisman & Beck, 1978). Studies using the DAS (with such samples as college students and psychiatric patients) have reported that depressed subjects exhibit significantly more dysfunctional attitudes than nondepressed subjects (Barnett & Gotlib, 1988a; Penedo et al., 2001). However, when stressful life events are also investigated, the findings are inconsistent. Some studies have found that a significant interaction of dysfunctional attitudes with stressful life events is a good predictor of depressive symptoms (Wise & Barnes, 1986), whereas other studies have not supported this hypothesis (Barnett & Gotlib, 1988a, 1990). In their studies of the effects of stressful life events and social support on depressive symptoms in college students, Barnett and Gotlib (1988a, 1990) found that the interaction of dysfunctional attitudes with social support accounted for the severity of the depressive symptoms, but the interaction of dysfunctional attitudes with negative life events did not. Analysis of the former interaction suggested that subjects who had higher dysfunctional attitudes were more likely to report severe depressive symptoms when they perceived themselves to have lower levels of social support. Barnett and Gotlib's explanation was that depressed people maintain their self-esteem through dependent relationships with others. Low social support or the absence of social support for people with dysfunctional attitudes may threaten their self-worth, resulting in more severe depression.
The interplay of negative life events, dysfunctional attitudes, and social support in the development of depression has not yet been explained satisfactorily. In fact, there have been few studies addressing the interrelationships among these variables. Klocek, Oliver, and Ross (1997) investigated the role of dysfunctional attitudes, negative life events, and social support in the prediction of depressive dysphoria; specifically, they conducted a longitudinal study which measured dysfunctional attitudes at time 1, negative life events and social support at time 2, and dysphoria at time 3. Hierarchical multiple regression revealed no significant two-way interactions among the variables. In contrast, there was a significant three-way interaction among negative life events, dysfunctional attitudes, and social support. Klocek et al. further divided subjects into eight groups based on median splits on the three psychosocial predictor variables. Analysis of variance indicated that the combination of higher dysfuncti onal attitudes and a high number of negative life events predicted higher levels of depressive dysphoria regardless of the reported size of the social support network; moreover, lower levels of negative life events together with a larger social support network resulted in less severe symptoms of depressive dysphoria.
Although Klocek et al. (1997) have provided some information about the interaction between these variables, their work nevertheless does not especially elucidate the interplay of social support and dysfunctional attitudes. Therefore, the present study sought to investigate the relationship between dysfunctional attitudes and social support when stressful life events are considered. It was hypothesized that perceived social support has a moderating effect on the relationship between dysfunctional attitudes and depression. This hypothesis is notably different from the ones in Barnett and Gotlib's study (1990); they regarded dysfunctional attitude as a moderator between social support and depression, implying that individuals with high dysfunctional attitudes might perceive less social support because dysfunctional attitudes may act as a filter that predisposes an individual to experience a number of unpleasant emotions, such as loneliness and general mistrust or dissatisfaction with their interpersonal relation ships (Halamandaris & Power, 1997). This study, on the other hand, hypothesized that perceived social support moderates the relationship between dysfunctional attitudes and depression because social support is found to be a stress buffer (Cohen & Wills, 1985). Empirical studies have found evidence of a negative relationship between social support and depression (Lin & Ensel, 1984; Monroe et al., 1983). Social support may intervene between stressful life events and a stress reaction by attenuating a stress appraisal response. That is, when individuals perceive that necessary resources may be provided by others, they may redefine the potential threat posed by a stressful situation or bolster their perceived ability to cope with the stressor (Cohen & Wills, 1985). Therefore, since holding dysfunctional attitudes results in distorted reactions to stressors, the perception of sufficient social support should assist individuals to appraise stressful situations more positively and thereby adopt more functional copin g strategies.
Specifically, the present study investigated the moderating effect of perceived social support (i.e., family support and peer support) on the relationship between dysfunctional attitudes and depression among adolescents in Taiwan. Perceived peer support was examined because, during adolescence, the peer group becomes salient in helping adolescents complete developmental tasks. Perceived family support was also assessed because, despite the fact that family relationships undergo significant changes during this stage, the family continues to play an important role for most adolescents. In fact, research has consistently found that family support and peer support are both essential in helping to prevent depression during adolescence (Barrera & Garrison-Jones, 1992; Holahan & Moos, 1987; Lictra-Kleckler & Waas, 1993). It was hypothesized that, when controlling for stressful life events, dysfunctional attitudes and perceived social support from family and peers would be significant main effect predictors of depres sion, with dysfunctional attitudes a positive predictor and social support a negalive predictor of depression for both boys and girls. It was also hypothesized that perceived social support from family and peers would serve to buffer the deleterious effect of dysfunctional attitudes for both boys and girls; that is, there would be a significant dysfunctional attitudes by social support interaction in the prediction of depression.
Subjects and Procedure
The subjects were 458 seventh graders from eastern Taiwan selected using randomly stratified cluster sampling. Approximately 46% were female and 54% were male. Data were collected in school settings from March to June 2000. Subjects were administered a series of measures in groups; these measures included a questionnaire on their personal background, Children's Depression Inventory (Kovacs, 1981, 1983), Stressful Life Events (Chiu, 1988), Dysfunctional Attitudes Scale (Weisman & Beck, 1978), and Perceived Social Support from Family and Friends (Procidano & Heller, 1983).
All of the measures were translated into Chinese. Five bilingual Chinese scholars independently translated each item and then compared translations to resolve any disagreements. Furthermore, 100 sixth graders in an elementary school in Taiwan were recruited to participate in a pilot study. Through primary data analyses, items which had negligible correlations with the measures were eliminated, bringing internal consistency to an acceptable level.
The Children's Depression Inventory (CDI; Kovacs, 1981) is the most widely employed self-report measure of depression in children. It consists of 27 items, which are designed to measure the cognitive, affective, and behavioral symptoms of depression occurring in the prior two weeks. Each item lists three statements, which serve to indicate the varying levels of symptom severity. The CDI has been ascertained to have adequate internal consistency, test-retest reliability, and acceptable convergent validity. In the current study, test-retest reliability and internal consistency were .69 and .88, respectively.
Stressful Life Events (SLE; Chiu, 1988) is a 46-item inventory of life events that usually occur during adolescence. The events fall into four categories: school, family, friends, and physical appearance. Subjects were requested to indicate whether they had experienced certain life events in the past 6 months. If experienced, they were further asked to rate the severity of stressfulness on a 4-point scale. A total life event score was calculated by summing stressfulness for each negative life event that had occurred in the past 6 months.
The Dysfunctional Attitudes Scale (DAS; Weisman & Beck, 1978) consists of 40 statements (rated on a 7-point scale) that describe implicit rules and conditions for self-acceptance, including perfectionistic standards for the self and rigid expectations regarding how others should act. The DAS was scored so that higher scores would indicate more dysfunctional attitudes. Moreover, in this study, a 5-point scale was used. Further, due to their negligible correlation with other items, five items (6, 12, 16, 20, and 39) were eliminated following preliminary analysis. Cronbach's reliability coefficient for the revised scale used in this study was .83.
The Perceived Social Support from Family (PSS-Fa) and the Perceived Social Support from Friends (PSS-Fr) questionnaires (Procidano & Heller, 1983) each consist of 20 items relating to the degree of intimacy and support provided by friends and family (e.g., "My friends enjoy hearing about what I think"; "I rely on my family for emotional support"). Response options are yes, no, and I don't know. Depending on the direction of the item, a yes or no is assigned 1 point, indicating support, or 0 points, indicating no support. Thus, the PSS-Fa and PSS-Fr each have a range from 0 to 20, with higher scores indicating more support. Cronbach's reliability coefficients for the PSS-Fa and PSS-Fr were .87 and .85, respectively.
Means and standard deviations for the predictor variables and the CDI were calculated separately for boys and girls (see Table 1), and two-tailed t tests were performed. Compared with boys, girls reported significantly more peer support, t(404) = 4.67, p < .001, and more stressful life events, t(321) = 4.57, p <.001. There were no significant gender differences on the other variables (all p's > .10).
Pearson correlations among the variables, presented separately for girls and boys, are shown in Table 2. Family support was significantly and negatively correlated with dysfunctional attitudes, CDI scores, and stressful life events for both boys and girls. Peer support was significantly and negatively related to dysfunctional attitudes and CDI scores for both boys and girls. Dysfunctional attitudes were significantly and positively correlated with CDI scores and stressful life events for boys and girls.
Multiple regression analyses were conducted separately for boys and girls since gender differences were found among the predictors of depression. The purpose was to examine the hypothesis that when stressful life events are encountered, the interaction of dysfunctional attitudes with peer support and family support would significantly predict the severity of depression. Using a four-step hierarchical linear regression analysis, the predictors were entered into the regression equation in the following sequences: Step 1--stressful life events (SLE); Step 2--dysfunctional attitudes (DAS), family support (PSS-Fa), and peer support (PSS-Fr); Step 3--the two-way interaction effects among DAS, PSS-Fa and PSS-Fr; Step 4--the three-way cross-product. The results of the analysis for girls are presented in Table 3 and for boys in Table 4. For girls, main effects were found for dysfunctional attitudes ([beta] = .22, p < .05) and family support ([beta] = -.310, p < .001), and there was a significant interaction between dy sfunctional attitudes and peer support ([beta] = -.156, p < .05). It was found that the level of depressive symptoms increased for girls with high dysfunctional attitudes and low peer support, revealing the buffering effect of peer support. For boys, significant main effects were found for dysfunctional attitudes ([beta] = .314, p < .001) and peer support ([beta] = -.288, p < .001). There were significant interactions between dysfunctional attitudes and family support ([beta] = .216, p < .05) and between dysfunctional attitudes and peer support ([beta] = -.217, p < .05). It was found that the level of depressive symptoms increased for boys with high dysfunctional attitudes and low peer support, but decreased for those with low dysfunctional attitudes and low family support. This indicates that peer support, rather than family support, serves as a buffer in regard to depressive symptoms.
The present study was designed to investigate the roles of social support and dysfunctional attitudes in the course of depression. It was hypothesized that perceived social support from family and peers would moderate the relationship between dysfunctional attitudes and depressive symptoms among early adolescents. The results partially support the hypothesis. Dysfunctional attitudes were found to be associated with depression, and the relationship was moderated by perceived social support. The results indicated that the moderating effect of social support on the relationship between dysfunctional attitudes and depression varied by gender and by support resources. For girls, there was a main effect of family support on depression, suggesting that a high level of family intimacy and support protects adolescent girls from more severe depressive symptoms. Furthermore, peer support appears to be important as well. Specifically, the relationship between dysfunctional attitudes and depression was strongly positive f or low peer support, but only weakly positive for high peer support. In contrast, for boys, peer support had both a primary effect and moderating effect, implying that a high level of peer support not only directly decreases their depressive symptoms, but also weakens the positive relationship between dysfunctional attitudes and depression. In an earlier study, Lictra-Kieckler and Waas (1993) reported that adolescents who perceived their friends as supportive tended to experience less depression than those who rated peer support as low or nonexistent. Thus, friends who offer companionship, a sense of worth, and a feeling of belonging may help to support adolescents during periods of high stress.
Studies have found that the importance of parental support weakens during adolescence, and that this phenomenon is stronger for girls than for boys (Helsen, Vollebergh, & Meeus, 2000; Weigel & Devereux, 1998). Helsen, Vollebergh, and Meeus (2000), in their study about the relationship between social support (from parents and friends) and emotional problems in adolescence, pointed out that for boys, the influence of parental support declines with increasing age, whereas the influence of support from friends increases. The shift takes place between the ages of 12 and 17. Moreover, for girls, peer support arises between ages 12 and 14 but declines between ages 16 and 18. According to the descriptive statistics in the present study, both boys and girls perceived a higher level of peer support than family support (see Table 1).
Although girls perceived higher support from peers, family support continued to play a role in preventing depression. For boys, on the other hand, peer support was the only resource protecting them against depression. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that although family support was found to correlate negatively with dysfunctional attitudes, as family support increased, the relationship between dysfunctional attitudes and depression did not weaken as expected. Why did family support not function, as did peer support, to moderate the relationship between dysfunctional attitudes and depression? Previous studies regarding social support in Taiwanese adolescents provide little insight. Most of the relevant research in Taiwan has focused on how the qualities of social support affect adolescents' adjustment (Cheng & Wang, 1989; Chiu, 1988; Dai & Cheng, 1998; Tsang, 1996). Few studies have examined the relative influences of family and peers on adolescents' development and adjustment. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is that the family in Taiwan generally has higher educational expectations for boys than for girls. Such expectations can be observed in parents' making greater educational investment in boys than in girls (Chang, 1998). For instance, parents are more willing to help sons with homework and to assign additional homework, as well as to meet with their school teachers, compared with daughters (Chang, 1998). If we consider that, culturally, a male's success is the glory of the family, then boys are very aware of others' expectations and the responsibilities imposed upon them. Therefore, the family can be a resource that provides love and warmth, but it also can be a stressor that causes boys to develop dysfunctional attitudes, including the need for perfectionistic achievement and constant approval by others (Beck et al., 1979).
There were some limitations to the present study. For instance, a cross-sectional design was used, and one should be cautious about making causal inferences from the findings. Despite the fact that the results supported the hypothesis that peer support moderates the relationship between dysfunctional attitudes and depressive symptoms, it is possible that adolescents with high dysfunctional attitudes perceive less social support and thereby experience more serious depression. Moreover, in cross-sectional research, the measurement of dysfunctional attitudes is influenced by subjects' level of depressive symptoms. Severely depressed subjects might endorse more dysfunctional attitudes and perceive less social support. Thus, the nature of the causal path among dysfunctional attitudes, social support, and depression cannot be ascertained on the basis of this kind of study. A longitudinal study is required to further test and clarify the relationships.
Table 1 Means and Standard Deviations for the predictor Variables and the CDI Boys Girls Measure M SD M SD SLE 24.45 15.77 33.01 17.84 CDI 14.66 7.03 14.69 6.88 DAS 89.06 16.75 89.01 13.93 PSS-Fr 24.32 6.13 27.36 6.92 PSS-Fa 23.98 7.59 25.42 8.72 SLE = Stressful Life Events, CDI = Children's Depression Inventory, DAS = Dysfunctional Attitudes Scale, PSS-Fr = Perceived Social Support from Friends PSS-Fa = Perceived Social Support from Family. Table 2 Correlations Among the Variables for Boys and Girls 1 2 3 4 5 Boys 1. SLE - .28 .18 -.09 -.30 2. CDI - .37 -.43 -.40 3. DAS - -.22 -.24 4. PSS-Fr - .50 5. PSS-Fa - Girls 1. SLE - .44 .33 -.09 -.30 2. CDI - .33 -.38 -.44 3. DAS - -.19 -.24 4. PSS-Fr - .36 5. PSS-Fa - * p < .01 ** p < .005 Table 3 Prediction of Depression Among Girls [R.sup.2] [DELTA][R.sup.2] F (df) Step 1 .19 30.02 (1,123) SLE Step 2 .38 .19 19.88 (4,120) DAS PSS-Fr PSS-Fa Step 3 .40 .02 12.74 (7,117) PSS-Fr X DAS PSS-Fa X DAS PSS-Fa X PSS-Fr Step 4 .39 0 11.09 (8,116) DAS x PSS-Fr x PSS-Fa Beta ([beta]) Step 1 SLE .44 (1.67) ** Step 2 DAS .22 (1.59) ** PSS-Fr -.12 (-.78) PSS-Fa -.31 (-1.97) ** Step 3 PSS-Fr X DAS -.16 (-1.12) * PSS-Fa X DAS -.10 (-.68) PSS-Fa X PSS-Fr -.02 (-9.48) Step 4 DAS x PSS-Fr x PSS-Fa .03 (.20) * p < .05 ** p < .001 Table 4 Prediction of Depression Among Boys [R.sup.2] [delta][R.sup.2] F (df) Step 1 .06 8.80 (1,117) SLE Step 2 .32 .26 14.78 (4,114) DAS PSS-Fr PSS-Fa Step 3 .35 .03 10.22 (7,111) PSS-Fr X DAS PSS-Fa X DAS PSS-Fa X PSS-Fr Step 4 .36 .01 9.31 (8,110) DAS X PSS-Fr X PSS-Fa Beta ([beta]) Step 1 SLE .26 (.11) * Step 2 DAS .31 (1.87) ** PSS-Fr -.29 (-2.05) ** PSS-Fa -.13 (-.87) Step 3 PSS-Fr X DAS -.22 (-1.34) * PSS-Fa X DAS .22 (1.52) * PSS-Fa X PSS-Fr .10 (.57) Step 4 DAS X PSS-Fr X PSS-Fa .16 (.99) * P <.05 ** p < .001
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The author would like to thank the National Science Council of the Republic of China for financially supporting this research under Contract No. NSC 89-2413-H-143-001.
Reprint requests to Yih-Lan Liu, Center for Teacher Education, National Tsing Hua University, 101 Sec. 2, Kuang Fu Road, Hsinchu 300, Taiwan, Republic of China. E-mail: email@example.com
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|Date:||Dec 22, 2002|
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