Social exchange theory has long emphasized that social interaction entails both rewards and costs. Research on the effects of social relations on psychological wellbeing, however, has generally ignored the negative side of social interaction. This study examined the relative impact of positive and negative social outcomes on older women's well-being. The sample consisted of 120 widowed women between the ages of 60 and 89. Multiple regression analyses revealed that negative social outcomes were more consistently and more strongly related to well-being than were positive social outcomes. This effect of negative social involvement did not appear to be due to major differences among women with high versus moderate or low levels of problematic social ties. Analyses of variance indicated that these three groups of women differed neither in important background characteristics nor in indices of social competence. The results demonstrate the importance of assessing the specific content of social relations. Implications for the design of social network interventions are discussed.
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