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Differential hemodynamic effects during the provision of active and passive support in the laboratory

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Objective: Recent research has pointed to the cardiovascular benefits of providing social support to others in times of stress; however, little is known about what factors influence such benefits.

Design and measures: In a between-groups design, we investigated the possible interaction between intimacy (friend vs. stranger) and support type (active vs. passive) in determining the cardiovascular responses of support providers. Eighty participants had their blood pressure and heart rate monitored while providing either active or passive social support to a friend or a stranger who completed a stress task.

Results: Although there was no interaction effect, a significant main effect showed that those who provided passive support showed larger decreases relative to those in the active support condition. There was no effect of intimacy. Further, these effects withstood adjustment for a number of potential confounds (e.g. sex and body mass index).

Conclusion: It appears that the greatest physiological benefit for social support providers may come from providing passive, rather than active support, regardless of whether the support receiver is a friend or a stranger.
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Keywords: blood pressure; cardiovascular reactivity; social support; stress

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland 2: Department of Psychology, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland

Publication date: September 2, 2015

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