Individual differences in the social network sizes of older adults

  • Jasmine Rollings

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Humans live in large, complex social groups, where relationships are thought to be managed through complex social and communicative abilities. Despite extensive evidence that having a larger social network is associated with positive life outcomes, the individual characteristics associated with the formation and maintenance of social ties and why some individuals have larger social networks than others, are not well understood. In this thesis, I studied the relationship between social network size and individual differences in personality, expressivity, and reactivity to stress. This thesis focuses on how this relationship presents in older adults- an overlooked population in individual differences research who may be at particular risk of the consequences to having a smaller social network.
First, I outline the findings from a secondary analysis of a large, nationally representative sample of older adults, which indicated that the personality traits, extraversion, and agreeableness, were strong predictors of social network size. Next, I expanded the study of socio-communicative traits to include self-rated and observed facial expressivity. The findings from this online survey indicated that extraversion, agreeableness, and openness were strongly associated with social network size, though expressive traits were not. Finally, I studied the impact of stress on facial behaviour and how facial and physiological reactivity to stress may be related to social network size. I found that stress had an effect on smiling behaviour during social interactions but did not prompt a change in overall expressivity. Indices of reactivity to stress were not related to social network size, but as in my previous studies, I found that extraversion was related to social network size, as was expressive impulse control.
Overall, this thesis contributes to the discussion on how socio-communicative traits may have evolved to help us succeed in a complex social environment, as well as contributing evidence on how individual differences influence social outcomes in older people
Date of AwardMar 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorDarren Van Laar (Supervisor) & Bridget Marguerite Waller (Supervisor)

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