Recent experimental work on the benefits of social support in buffering cardiovascular stress responses builds on prior epidemiological, psychological, and physiological work. Epidemiological data show that social integration is associated with better health, but cannot unambiguously establish causality (it could be that healthy people attract more friends), nor that the mechanism is psychological (the mechanism could be behavioral; for example, with friends encouraging exercise). Social psychological work suggests that people prefer to be with others, especially in times of stress, and that they evaluate themselves, and their emotional responses, by observing the people around them. This work, while establishing a desire for affiliation, does not show that being with others translates into health benefits. Physiological evidence suggests that exaggerated cardiovascular responses to stress are associated with the development of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, but does not indicate how such potentially damaging stress responses can be reduced. Experimental work on social support and cardiovascular reactivity overcomes many of these limitations. The presence of an ally, especially a female, markedly reduces cardiovascular responses compared both to the presence of an non-supportive other, and to experiencing the stress alone. One fruitful area for further work is the role of social support following stress, both in speeding the cardiovascular return to pre- stress levels, and in limiting rumination-induced cardiovascular responses. (C) 2000 Editions scientifiques et medicales Elsevier SAS.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes