The Role of Facework in Younger and Older Adults' Evaluations of Social Support Messages

Scott E. Caplan
Wendy Samter

Document Type Article

Published in Communication Quarterly, volume 47 issue 3, 1999. Bryant users may access this article here.


Two studies assessed younger and older adults' evaluations of emotional- and instrumental-support messages. Spedfically, these studies investigated (a) individuals' perceptions of support messages that consisted of multiple politeness strategies and face threats, and (b) the ways in which particular types of supportive speech acts (i.e., giving advice, offers of assistance, and expressions of concern) were perceived as more or less helpful and sensitive to each recipients' face needs. Overall, there were both similarities and differences in how older and younger adults viewed these support messages. Across age groups, the type of speech act and positive-politeness strategy employed were the most influential predictors of the perceived helpfulness and face sensitivity of a support message. However, positive-politeness strategies were more influential on the ratings by younger participants than they were on evaluations by older adults. Surprisingly, across both age groups, negative-politeness strategies seemed unrelated to people's perceptions of helpfulness and sensitivity. Finally, among both samples, some types of support acts were consistently rated more favorably than others (with offers being rated most favorably and expressions of concern being rated least favorably.