Background and objectives: Trauma exposure is associated with negative outcomes like posttraumatic stress disorder. However, not everyone reports distress; resilience is common. Some even report improved psychological functioning following trauma, termed posttraumatic growth (PTG). Numerous factors are implicated in PTG development, many related to the cognitive processing of the event. Outside of cognitive factors, one of the strongest promoters of PTG is social support, but less is known about what types of support are most facilitative. Of potential importance is experiential similarity, or the extent to which the support person has experienced shared elements of one’s trauma. The present study examined whether social support with higher experiential similarity was more strongly associated with PTG than support without experiential similarity.
Methods: Bootstrapping procedures in the PROCESS macro for SPSS tested experiential similarity as a moderator of the relation between social support satisfaction and PTG. Six models were tested, each with total PTG or one of the five domains of growth (new possibilities, relating to others, personal strength, spiritual change, and appreciation for life) as outcomes.
Results: Only when considering new possibilities as the outcome was experiential similarity a significant moderator, such that low levels of similarity at high levels of social support were negatively associated with growth. Similarity was not a moderator in the other five models. When direct effects were examined, both social support and total growth were negatively associated with total growth as well as the domains of relating to others and new possibilities. No significant relationships were found in the remaining three domains.
Conclusions: In this sample of college undergraduates, experiential similarity does not appear to be a critical aspect of social support that is influential of growth. Future research should determine whether this is sample-specific, or whether other factors such as demographic similarity might be more facilitative of growth.
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Lytle, Avery, "Moderating Role of Experiential Similarity on the Relationship between Social Support and Posttraumatic Growth" (2023). Honors Theses. 408.