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Does social support reduce cardiovascular stress reactivity only if you want support: a test of a match/mismatch hypothesis Kors, Deborah Joy

Abstract

Epidemiological studies have suggested that social support may offer a protective role for cardiovascular health. More recently, researchers have begun to examine possible mechanisms by which social support may reduce cardiovascular reactivity to stress. This study was undertaken to determine if the implementation of support (presence or absence) needs to be matched with a person's habitual level of support seeking (high or low) in order to obtain physiological benefits during laboratory stressors. It was hypothesized that high support seekers assigned to a support condition would show decreased reactivity relative to all other matched or mismatched conditions. Following the screening of480 students, 135 high and low support seeking men and women were recruited for the laboratory phase. In this phase, participants performed a math and a speech task, while alone or while receiving support. Participants were randomly assigned to a condition that either matched (e.g., support provision for support seekers) or mismatched their support seeking style. Heart rate (HR), systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) were monitored continuously. Self-report measures evaluating the participants' reactions to the task and to support were administered pre- and post-task. Although the central (match) hypothesis of this study was not supported, several interesting findings emerged: Low support seeking men exhibited larger SBP responses than did high support seeking men during the tasks. Participants receiving support showed greater SBP responses relative to participants who were alone during the tasks. Additionally, supported men showed increased DBP reactivity relative to men who were assigned to an alone condition. Interestingly, high support seeking men and women showed lower resting blood pressures than did low support seeking participants. The findings from the self-report measures did not help to clarify the cardiovascular findings. The findings suggest that future research is needed to better understand how and when support is effective in reducing cardiovascular reactivity to stress.

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