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Social support is a type of support that arises from contact with other humans in various types of relations. Someone's friends, family, and other acquaintances might be called upon to provide social support in different ways, and different relationships entail different obligations toward support. This type of support can be physical or emotional and may even take material manifestations. There have been studies that show that people with strong social support networks fare better in stressful or painful situations and often recover more quickly from injuries.
Being included in a strong social network of people with whom someone has mutual obligations can be helpful in a variety of unexpected ways. Emotionally, when a person is dealing with a highly stressful or painful event, having a strong system of social support can help a person get over the incident more quickly. This is accomplished both through the knowledge that one is cared for and through the actual assistance provided by relations.
Physically, people who have strong social support often recover more quickly from injuries and illnesses. The social group provides emotional care and may even provide a person with tacit incentives to get better. In many ways, being a part of the social group is itself enough to improve a person's rate of recovery. Without any active assistance, the person's individual knowledge that he or she is important and cared for can make physical health easier to maintain.
Material help from a social network does not always come in the form of money. A person with strong social support might feel more capable of, for example, leaving his or her abusive spouse because of the potential material support from a social group. Even if material assistance is never actually needed, the knowledge that help could be provided is often enough to allow a person to take risks. Support may come in other forms as well, such as mentorship or extended professional connections.
One of the reasons that social support is so interesting is that it rewards social behavior and cooperation. A person who is selfish and antisocial is often at a disadvantage in this regard even if he or she is more powerful on an individual level. Theories of the benefits of being embedded in a social network help to explain why people would gather in societies in the first place. More importantly, they give people tools to help construct their lives in ways that will be maximally beneficial. On both the theoretical and the practical level, the idea of social support provides a valuable tool for thinking about human relationships.
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