Date of Award

Spring 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Robin J. Lewis

Committee Member

Desideria S. Hacker (Norfolk State University)

Committee Member

Skye Ochsner Margolies (Eastern Virginia Medical School)

Committee Member

James F. Paulson

Committee Member

Barbara A. Winstead


Perceived social support (PSS) is linked to a range of beneficial effects, but the factors that influence the effectiveness of PSS are less well understood. In their Relational Regulation Theory (RRT), Lakey and Orehek (2011) emphasize the importance of distinguishing the role of individual factors from relational influences on PSS. This study tested the RRT by examining whether the association of PSS to three mental health outcomes (i.e., aggression, binge eating, depressive symptoms) varies by two individual factors: sense of belonging and emotion regulation. With a non-clinical college sample, a series of hierarchical regressions tested whether sense of belonging and adaptive emotion regulation (i.e., cognitive reappraisal) enhanced the association between PSS and mental health symptoms. Maladaptive emotion regulation (i.e., expressive suppression) was also examined, with the expectation of a weakened association between PSS and mental health.

Results found few moderation effects as hypothesized, but trends indicated sense of belonging, cognitive reappraisal, and expressive suppression primarily function independently of perceived social support, with PSS becoming a relevant buffer of low internal resources in the presence of greater mental health symptoms. Unexpected support for the RRT was indicated by the consistently detected beneficial effects of sense of belonging, which likely reflects relational influences as well as individual characteristics. Differences in the relations among these variables between European American and African American students were also explored. Greater PSS and sense of belonging were more strongly linked to lower binge eating for European American students, while lower suppression was linked to lower binge eating for African American students. Future research would benefit from a larger sample size of non-clinical college students, including symptom level as a moderator, and examining the effects of these variables in mediation models.


The VIRGINIA CONSORTIUM PROGRAM IN CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY is a joint program of Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk State University, and Old Dominion University.


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