Social Support, Social Intimacy, and Cardiovascular Reactions to Acute Psychological Stress

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Colleges, School and Institutes


BACKGROUND: Exaggerated cardiovascular reactions to psychological stress are considered a risk factor for cardiovascular morbidity. Social support may reduce such risk by attenuating cardiovascular reactivity to stress. PURPOSE: To examine the effects of three independent social support variables and their interaction on cardiovascular reactivity to acute stress. The variables were stranger or friend presence, active supportive or passive presence, and male or female presence. METHODS: Cardiovascular reactions to mental arithmetic stress were measured in 112 healthy young women tested in one of eight distinct independent conditions: active supportive male friend; active supportive female friend; passive male friend; passive female friend; active supportive male stranger; active supportive female stranger, passive male stranger; and passive female stranger. RESULTS: Support from a friend rather than a stranger was associated with attenuated blood pressure reactivity, but only when the supporter was a male friend. Support from a male stranger or female friend was associated with augmented blood pressure reactivity. CONCLUSIONS: This interaction between the intimacy and sex of the supporter on cardiovascular reactivity extends the findings of previous laboratory studies of social support and can, to an extent, be interpreted in terms of the Social Comparison Theory.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-45
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2009


  • Social support, Cardiovascular reactivity, Acute psychological stress