The psychosocial gap hypothesis. a psychosocial model of psychological distress.

Brenlla, María Elena (2018). 'The Psychosocial Gap Hypothesis. A psychosocial model of psychological distress.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


The main objective of this paper is to present an explanatory model of psychological distress on the basis of a social interactionist and psychosocial approach, using Amartya Sen’s capability approach as the theoretical framework. The model uses both socio-structural variables (social stress, social network) and individual variables (agency resources, coping style and emotional support) to explain the connection between social position and psychological distress. The main thesis is that although severe psychological distress is independent of a person’s social position, moderate levels of psychological distress are influenced by the socioeconomic context in which a person lives. But this influence is not direct. The presumption is that the context becomes relevant when combined with factors related to the human agency, specifically the locus of control and perception of self-efficacy that are expressed as individual differences. To analyze this hypothesis, we carried out a correlational and inferential design with survey contrast using data from the Encuesta de la Deuda Social Argentina (EDSA). Brief psychological tests were included in this survey to assess these psychosocial characteristics and traits. A total of 1740 people living in urban areas of Argentina. Methods of structural equations were used to test the proposed model. Among the paper´s most salient results is that  people from the lower social positions systematically reported more social stress, less support network and more perceptions of external locus of control, low self-efficacy and avoidant coping style compared to their higher class peers. The Beta coefficients were moderate but significant. All of the goodness of fit indexes were significant and the explained variance was 25%. In this sense, the proposed model is considered to be a plausible explanation of the relationship between social position and psychological distress. That is, the social position also compromises the subjectivity and the possibility of personal decision, restricts the horizon of possibilities of the individuals and affects essential aspects of the human agency. The findings suggest that inequality not only implies an economic gap but also a deeper one: the psychosocial gap. These results may be of interest not only for the development of this area of research but also for their potential contribution to the design of public policies.

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