Choice of Confidants Evolves Rapidly in New Contexts

Peter V Marsden

Peter V Marsden

Prevailing career advice reinforces maintaining a robust professional network, and well-being research emphasizes cultivating supportive social contacts.

Claude S. Fischer

Claude S. Fischer

Core discussion networks,” described by Harvard’s Peter V. Marsden, include people consulted about important matters across professional and personal realms.
Most people expect that these confidants are enduring close contacts, according to University of California, Berkeley’s Lynne McCallister and Claude Fischer.

Mario Luis Small

Mario Luis Small

However, Harvard’s Mario Luis Small, with Vontrese Deeds Pamphile of Northwestern, and University of Chicago’s Peter McMahan demonstrated that core discussion networks can change quickly with new social contexts and obligations.
In fact, Small and team found much quicker network evolutions than previously observed by Utrecht University’s Gerald Mollenhorst, Beate Volker, and Henk Flap.

Gerald Mollenhorst

Gerald Mollenhorst

Change in core discussion network often results from lack of opportunity to meet, asserted Mollenhorst and colleagues.
In addition, life transition events, such as completing education, beginning a job, entering a marriage, and birth of a child were associated with changes in personal networks in research by University of Amsterdam’s Matthijs Kalmijn.

Matthijs Kalmijn

Matthijs Kalmijn

Small and colleagues evaluated a core discussion network during transition to graduate school for 37 first-year students from three academic departments during their first 12 months, using a qualitative-quantitative complementary approach described by Sam Houston State University’s Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie and Kathleen Collins of University of Arkansas.

Network Outcomes” observed by Small’s team were characterized as:

  • Stasis,
  • Expansion,
  • Shedding,
  • Substitution.
Anthony J Onwuegbuzie

Anthony J Onwuegbuzie

Related “Network Mechanisms” of core discussion group changes included new routine activities and obligations and variance in strength of existing social relationships and were associated with rapid adaptation to new social contexts.

Previously, Small demonstrated than almost half the members of a typical core discussion network were composed of people not seen as “close,” suggesting that sources of social support are adaptable to changing contexts of life transitions, and need not be close or long-term contacts.

  • What percentage of your core discussion group confidents are “close” social contacts?
  • What processes enable developing new social support relationships? 

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