Graduated student, Dr. Ai Ni Teoh, and Clayton publish a new paper entitled, “Social support as a comfort or an encouragement: A systematic review on the contrasting effects of social support on cardiovascular reactivity,” in the British Journal of Health Psychology.
Purpose. The stress-buffering hypothesis (Cohen & McKay, 1984) suggests that one way social support enhances health is by attenuating cardiovascular reactivity (CVR) to stress. Research that has tested this hypothesis has reported inconsistent findings. In this review, we systematically reviewed those findings and proposed a dual-effect model of social support and CVR as a potential explanation for the inconsistency in the literature. Specifically, we proposed that when participants are more engaged during a stressor, social support acts primarily as social comfort, attenuating CVR; and when participants are not engaged, social support acts primarily as social encouragement, elevating CVR.
Methods. We reviewed 22 previous studies that (1) empirically manipulated social support in a stressful situation, (2) measured CVR, and (3) tested a moderator of social support effects on CVR.
Results. Although a majority of studies reported a CVR-mitigating effect of social support resulting in an overall significant combined p-value, we found that there were different effects of social support on CVR when we considered high- and low-engagement contexts. That is, compared to control conditions, social support lowered CVR in more engaging situations but had no significant effect on CVR in less engaging situations.
Conclusion. Our results suggest that a dual-effect model of social support effects on CVR may better capture the nature of social support, CVR, and health associations than the buffering hypothesis and emphasize a need to better understand the health implications of physiological reactivity in various contexts.
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