Motivation Moderates the Effects of Social Support Visibility

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Social support can sometimes have negative consequences for recipients. One way of circumventing these negative effects is to provide support in an ‘invisible’ or indirect manner, such that recipients do not construe the behavior as a supportive act. However, little is known about how recipients’ motivational states influence when visible (direct) support or invisible support is more beneficial. Using the framework of Regulatory Mode Theory, we predicted that recipients motivated to engage in critical evaluation (i.e., those with a predominant assessment motivation) would find invisible support more beneficial than visible support, whereas recipients motivated to initiate action (i.e., those with a predominant locomotion motivation) would find visible support more beneficial than invisible support. Findings from one 2 × 2 experiment (Study 1), two laboratory experiments (Studies 2–3), one dyadic study involving support conversations between friends (Study 4), and a meta-analysis aggregating data from all four studies supported these hypotheses. As predicted, support outcomes were better for assessment predominant recipients following invisible support, but were better for locomotion predominant recipients following visible support. Results indicate that support attempts could be made more effective by considering both support visibility and recipient motivation.

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