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Research Questions

  1. What are the current social fitness constructs and measures in scientific literature?
  2. What initiatives would promote social fitness among U.S. Airmen and their families?

This report is one of a series of reports designed to support Air Force leadership in promoting resilience among Airmen, its civilian employees, and Air Force family members. One key component to resilience is social fitness, or the combined resources a person gets from his or her social world. This concept encompasses the availability and maintenance of social relationships, and the ability to utilize those ties to manage stressors and successfully perform tasks. Social fitness resources are the aspects of those relationships that strengthen a person's ability to withstand and rebound from challenges and even grow from them. U.S. Airmen and their families face several unique challenges that can strain the strength and accessibility of these resources, particularly geographic movement. This report identifies several scales and indexes used in social science research to measure three primary social fitness resources, emotional support, instrumental support, and informational support, and proposes that interventions aimed at increasing the quantity and quality of social support should focus on (1) sociodemographic characteristics and dispositional traits; (2) dynamics that strengthen social groups, support networks, and teams; (3) practices that improve social skills and promote more frequent and constructive interactions; and (4) activities that reduce conflict and group division. Particular attention is given to interventions that utilize cyber or virtual communities as an effective means of increasing social connectedness and social support among U.S. Airmen and their families.

Key Findings

Social support is a key factor that can affect an individual's resilience.

  • Social support is the central construct of social fitness.
  • There are three main forms of social support: emotional support, instrumental support, and informational support.
  • Social cohesion, social network size, and group stability, are important measures of social support.
  • Social support has been correlated with an array of well-being outcomes, including emotional and psychological well-being, physical health, and mortality.

The social support system of U.S. airmen and their families warrants particular attention.

  • Military families face several unique challenges that can strain the strength and accessibility of their social resources, including frequent geographic relocation, separation from family members and friends, residence in foreign countries, risk of service member injury and death, and negotiating transitions to and from deployment.
  • Each type of social group has valuable support to offer Airmen and their families, although family support appears to be particularly important for well-being.
  • One important resource used by military personnel to navigate frequent moves and substantial physical distance from family, friends, and other support networks is the Internet.

Recommendations

  • Interventions aimed at increasing the quantity and quality of social support should focus on (1) sociodemographic characteristics and dispositional traits; (2) dynamics that strengthen social groups, support networks, and teams; (3) practices that improve social skills and promote more frequent and constructive interactions; and (4) activities that reduce conflict and group division.
  • Efforts to promote the social fitness of U.S. Airmen should place particular emphasis on the promotion of family connections and cohesion.
  • Because of their geographic dispersion, particular attention should be paid to interventions that utilize cyber or virtual communities to increase social connectedness and social support among U.S. Airmen and their families.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    The Context of This Report

  • Chapter Two

    Social Fitness Definition and Constructs

  • Chapter Three

    Measures and Sources of Social Fitness, and Its Link to Well-Being

  • Chapter Four

    Barriers and Bridges to Social Support

  • Chapter Five

    Interventions to Promote Social Fitness

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusion

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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