Nonsupport Versus Varying Levels of Person-Centered Emotional Support: a Study of Women with Breast Cancer

J Cancer Educ. 2018 Jun;33(3):649-652. doi: 10.1007/s13187-016-1125-z.


Social support studies often focus on psychological outcomes for the support recipient and also presume potential support providers who will attempt to provide support in the first place. Therefore, the negative relational outcomes associated with not receiving emotional support when support is expected (nonsupport) are an understudied topic. Instances of nonsupport were compared to various emotional support messages on relational and psychological outcomes to understand how nonsupport compares against support messages of varying quality. Two hundred twenty-four women with breast cancer were asked to think of a person expected to provide emotional support if they disclosed their diagnosis on social media. Participants were given either a hypothetical support message from this person or told the person provided no message even though a message was expected. Dunnett's t tests were used to analyze the nonsupport condition against low, moderate, and highly person-centered support messages. Providing no emotional support message (nonsupport) creates low levels of emotional improvement and high levels of negative relational ramifications similar to low person-centered messages. Moreover, only participants receiving the low person-centered message agreed on average they would rather have received no message at all instead. Because low person-centered messages and saying nothing whatsoever both create negative relational ramifications, support providers should strive to communicate emotional support messages with at least a moderate amount of person-centeredness. These findings further suggest those who are expected to provide emotional support cannot dodge this obligation since nonsupport is shown to have negative relational outcomes to low person-centered support messages.

Keywords: Cancer; Emotional support; Nonsupport; Oncology; Person-centered messages; Relational ramifications.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Person-Centered Psychotherapy*
  • Social Support*