Benefit of social support for resilience-building is contingent on social context: examining cardiovascular adaptation to recurrent stress in women
Hughes, Brian M.
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Howard, Siobhán; Hughes, Brian M. (2012). Benefit of social support for resilience-building is contingent on social context: examining cardiovascular adaptation to recurrent stress in women. Anxiety, Stress & Coping 25 (4), 411-423
Previous work on social support and stress tolerance using laboratory-based cardiovascular stress response paradigms has suggested that perceived social support may be effective in building resilience in recipients. However, such paradigms are often socially de-contextualized insofar as they fail to take account of the social aspects of stress itself. Using 90 healthy college women, the present study sought to examine the association between self-reported perceived social support and cardiovascular stress tolerance. Participants underwent two consecutive exposures to a mental arithmetic task. On second exposure to the stressor, participants completed the task under either social threat or control conditions. Social threat was manipulated using socially salient instructions, to create a high social context. Adaptation to stress was established in terms of comparisons between cardiovascular responses to successive exposures. Results showed that cardiovascular responses tended to habituate across time, with perceived social support associated with the degree of habituation, but only under certain contextual conditions; high perceived support was associated with effective habituation under control conditions only. This response pattern is consistent with the view that high perceived social support buffers against stress in healthful ways, but only in asocial contexts.