The Psychological and Physiological Cost of Supporting People During Stress

  • S. Gallagher
  • S. Howard


Background: Providing social support has been found to improve psychological well-being. However, little is known about the physiological consequences of providing support or whether it varies with relationship intimacy or types of social support. We investigated whether relationship intimacy (friend vs stranger) would interact with support type (active vs passive) to influence cardiovascular responses of support providers. Methods: Participants were randomly allocated to one of four conditions (stranger/active support, stranger/passive support, friend/active support and friend/passive support), and then completed a standard stress testing protocol (baseline, task) and had their blood pressure and heart rate monitored while they watched someone to a stress task. Findings: Thus far, there are no interactions between relationship intimacy or support type for psychological or cardiovascular responses. However, those providing passive, and not active, support had the greatest reductions in diastolic blood pressure while watching someone do a stress task Discussion: This suggests that it is passive support that will bring the most health benefits to the social support provider.
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