Social Relations, Health Behaviors, and Health Outcomes: A Survey and Synthesis


  • Support for this publication is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through a grant, “Exploring the Concept of Positive Health”, to the Positive Psychology Center of the University of Pennsylvania, Martin Seligman, project director.

Address for correspondence: Louis Tay, Behavioural Sciences Institute, Singapore Management University, Administration Building, 81 Victoria Street, Singapore 188065. Email:


The primary goal of this paper is to summarise current evidence on social relations and health, specifically how social integration and social support are related to health behaviors and health outcomes, using results from published reviews. Our analysis revealed that social relations are beneficial for health behaviors such as chronic illness self-management and decreased suicidal tendency. The salutary effects of general measures of social relations (e.g. being validated, being cared for, etc.) on health behaviors (e.g. healthy diet, physical activity, smoking, alcohol abuse) are weaker, but specific measures of social relations targeting corresponding health behaviors are more predictive. There is growing evidence that social relations are predictive of mortality and cardiovascular disease, and social relations play an equally protective role against both the incidence and progression of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, evidence was mixed for the association between social relations and cancer. We discuss these findings and potential areas for future research such as other dimensions of social relations, support–receiver interactions, and observer ratings of social relations.