Social Support from Strong and Weak Ties

October 17, 2022

Bailey C. Benedict

Our social circles consist of strong and weak ties. Our strong ties are the people in our lives with whom we have the closest relationships. If we are the “main character” or “leading actor” in our life movie, then our strong ties are our love interests, our sidekicks, our parents, or the “best supporting actors.” Our weak ties might be listed in the credits as “friend at the party,” “Barista 2,” “man in yellow jumpsuit,” or sometimes even “extra.” Weak ties are people with whom we don’t feel particularly close but are connected in some way. We may know these people through crossing paths physically or through a friend of a friend. 

Both strong and weak ties can be sources of social capital. If economic capital consists of our financial assets or monetary resources, social capital consists of our relational assets or the resources that are available to us through the connections we have with other people. The benefits available to us from our strong ties are referred to as bonding social capital, but our weak ties can also benefit us. Weak ties offer bridging social capital. Both forms of social capital can yield social support, which is essential for our well-being, especially throughout our youth and into early adulthood, where it has increasing importance for our ability to cope with challenges.
Seungyoon LeeThe relationship between strong ties and social support is powerful and logical. Much evidence exists for strong ties, such as families and close friends, being the first people we reach out to when we need help. While interactions with weak ties can seem rather inconsequential when compared to those with strong ties, our weak ties are also pretty important to our well-being. A study of people in late adulthood found that a person’s number of weak ties was a stronger predictor of positive affect (e.g., hopefulness, happiness, enjoyment) and lower depression than their number of strong ties.   Along with being useful from our youth through adulthood, having access to social support is especially important when enduring severe adversity. For example, we studied households impacted by Superstorm Sandy and found that receiving support from people and organizations outside their strong ties was related to having quicker household recovery. Another example of the benefit of weak ties can be seen among members of virtual health communities for chronically ill people, who feel a sense of belonging with other members and can share diverse, experiential, and personal information with each other.  

College campuses offer ample opportunities to connect with weak ties and develop strong ties. The strong and weak ties we create and maintain can be meaningful in many ways. For example, when you want to learn about a new program on campus, you might realize that your friend lives next door to the person in charge of the program. Asking your friend to connect you with that person could help you get your foot in the door to the program. 

Conversely, chatting with the person sitting next to you in class could help you learn about their studying tips or may introduce you to a new television show or hobby. Expanding our networks can feel overwhelming, but it is valuable realizing that 

  • An extensive web of strong and weak ties can be beneficial when we are in need,
  • And, at the same time, each of us is also a weak tie in other people’s web of social connections. 

Our willingness to foster strong and weak ties can help social support flow across our campus and improve the well-being of our community. 


Bailey C. Benedict and Seungyoon Lee

Bailey C. Benedict received her Ph.D. in Communication from Purdue University and is an Assistant Professor of Management at California State University – San Bernardino. She studies social networks, resilience, and uncertainty. 

Seungyoon Lee is an Associate Professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication. Her research and teaching focuses on social network analysis, resilience, and organizational communication.  

Well-Being Resources:

Office of the Dean of Students, Student Support Services

Counseling and Psychological Services


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