Rutgers duo finds relationship between neighbors and psychological well-being


Emily Greenfield, associate professor in the Rutgers School of Social Work, teamed up to produce a study with Laurent Reyes, a School of Social Work alumna, to examine associations between psychological equanimity and relationships with neighbors.

The study, published in the Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences, suggests that neighbor interactions play a role bigger than what most people would imagine. 

The study, titled “Continuity and Change in Relationships with Neighbors: Implications for Psychological Well-being in Middle and Later Life,” utilized a U.S. data sample from 1995 to 2005, Greenfield said. 

The data sample found individuals who reported low levels of contact with neighbors had a relatively poorer self-image than individuals who reported moderate to high levels of contact with neighbors.

The study, Greenfield said, is the first that specifically investigates the relationship between neighbors and psychological states.

Greenfield said neighbor interaction and its effect on psychological states have received little attention within the academic community because familial relationships provide the bulk of caregiving and have been the dominant focus of research. 

But she said focus has shifted toward understanding neighbor relations and its influence on psychological well-being, partly due to an increased interest among scholars.

Greenfield received her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her graduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She expects more studies will look into further expanding on the relationship between psychological well-being and neighbor relationships.

Greenfield and Reyes focused on three areas of the research: negative moods and emotions, positive moods and self-identification.

While no correlation existed between negative and positive moods and emotions, the researchers discovered that participants, over time, felt less desired in their community and rated themselves worse in terms of autonomy and purpose.

Recently, she said, social workers and community leaders nationwide have placed greater emphasis on neighbor relations as a way to improve communities. 

She stated her study was a response to their efforts as well as to a growing trend in aging services and the various methods being implemented to assist aging adults in communities.

“We were interested in whether we would find evidence of individuals benefiting from neighbor relations,” Greenfield said. “We hope our research will provide insight for communities for ways they should proceed in improving neighbor relations.”

She added that her research would assist in ways to develop better placement housing for the elderly as well as practical solutions that would make these methods viable options.

Reyes, who assisted Greenfield in deciding research questions and hypotheses to quantitative data analysis, said while she considered relationships with neighbors as an integral aspect for psychological well-being, she did not anticipate perceived support would be a stronger determinant of lower psychological well-being.

“Our study showed that continuously low perceived support from neighbors was highly significant in increasing the risks of having lower levels of positive affect and psychological well-being,” Reyes said, “… Continuously low contact with neighbors only had an impact in decreasing psychological well-being.”

Reyes worked with Greenfield through a program called Project L/EARN, a program that recruits minorities and individuals from low-income families. 

Reyes contributed to the study by deciding which variables and age demographics the study wanted to include. 

She also assisted with the literature review — the methods for writing content, results and revisions for the study. 

“When I applied to Project L/EARN, I chose to work with Dr. Greenfield because I … felt studying neighbors was especially interesting, since we barely think about neighbors in our daily lives as a form of support … I thought they could prove to be very valuable,” she said. 

Presently, Reyes is involved in project called “Monitoring of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services for Adolescents in Mexico.”

She said it is a follow-up study to another study from 2012. It is currently evaluating the attitudes, practices and knowledge of health care professionals in the area of reproductive health and contraception among adolescent girls. 

Cathryn Potter, dean in the School of Social Work, said Greenfield’s research on the benefits of neighbor relationships has far-reaching implications for designing communities where seniors are better able to age in place through supportive neighbor connections.

“Families and agencies that care for seniors can use this information to help older individuals maintain a sense of purpose and identity through socialization with neighbors,” she said.


Juan Sacasa

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