Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

Document Type



When faced with stressful events, people seek the comfort of close others. The quality of support we receive from our friends, family members, and romantic partners, in turn, impacts our ability to cope. In addition, how we feel about our close relational partners seems intimately related to their abilities to foster appropriate, rather than maladaptive, coping. Surprisingly, however, the relational effects of support are largely ignored in literature. The two studies that comprise this dissertation incorporate tenets of two influential interpersonal communication theories, Person Centered Theory (PCT) and Relational Framing Theory (RFT), to investigate the relational effects of person-centered comfort. In Study 1, participants were asked to imagine experiencing an academic stressor, read a scripted supportive conversation, and were asked to evaluate the relational effects of the conversation. The results from Study 1 demonstrate that relational effects vary as a function of the person-centered quality of comforting messages such that high person-centered comfort is evaluated as expressing more affiliation and less dominance compared to low person-centered comfort. Further, HPC comfort results in positive changes in the perceived relationship qualities of closeness, commitment, intimacy, liking, loving, satisfaction and trust compared to LPC comfort. In Study 2, participants were asked to engage in a supportive conversation with a friend, after which they evaluated each conversational turn. Turns were coded for person-centered comfort. The results of Study 2 reveal that (a) HPC comfort has a negative impact on turn-level ratings of dominance and (b) stressor severity impacts both relational frames of affiliation and dominance. These results contribute to PCT by identifying relational effects of relational meaning and relational outcomes which vary as a function of the quality of person-centered comfort and further contribute to PCT by recognizing the ‘person’ receiving person-centered comfort perceives relational effects in addition to feeling better (or worse) after a conversation. Further, these results contribute to RFT by recognizing that the quality of person-centered comfort impacts frame relevancy, such that LPC comfort is perceived as more dominant and HPC comfort more affiliative. After acknowledging limitations, future directions are discussed for the programmatic study of supportive communication and relationships.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Bodie, Graham



Included in

Communication Commons