Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version

Spring 2-12-2016


Johnson, A. Z. (2016). Evaluating Family Caregivers' Memorable Messages of Social Support in the Context of Cancer (unpublished doctoral dissertation) University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Jody Koenig Kellas. Lincoln, Nebraska: February, 2016

Copyright (c) 2016 Alexis Zoe Johnson


Caring for a loved one with cancer can be physically and emotionally difficult. Research has established that social support can improve overall mental health (Albrecht & Goldsmith, 2003; Sarason et al., 1994). To understand how caregivers make sense of the supportive messages they receive and the links between those messages and caregiver well-being (e.g. stress, depression, and affect), this study used the communicated sense-making model (CSM, Koenig Kellas & Kranstuber Horstman, 2015). Specifically, the current dissertation focuses on memorable messages, as one significant form of CSM, in order to identify the understudied nature of supportive message content and the ways in which message content relates to how caregivers feel in the context of cancer caregiving. In addition to CSM, the study of social support lends insight into how people cope with trauma. Therefore, the current dissertation investigated the links between quality of social support and message content to obtain a richer understanding of sense-making and coping for caregivers. An area of study within social support is verbal person centeredness (VPC), which focuses on characteristics of message outcomes, such as empathy. Memorable messages help to link VPC to message content because they are short, discursive messages that people recall. VPC is also linked to quality of support; therefore, this study sought to uncover the memorable message content that is most person centered. The purpose was to understand what types of message content was most effective in helping caregivers cope and contributing to overall health. The long-term goal of this project is to develop educational materials (e.g. pamphlets, websites) for family caregivers’ social networks.

Advisor: Jody Koenig Kellas