The social dimension of stress reactivity: acute stress increases prosocial behavior in humans

Psychol Sci. 2012 Jun;23(6):651-60. doi: 10.1177/0956797611431576. Epub 2012 May 16.


Psychosocial stress precipitates a wide spectrum of diseases with major public-health significance. The fight-or-flight response is generally regarded as the prototypic human stress response, both physiologically and behaviorally. Given that having positive social interactions before being exposed to acute stress plays a preeminent role in helping individuals control their stress response, engaging in prosocial behavior in response to stress (tend-and-befriend) might also be a protective pattern. Little is known, however, about the immediate social responses following stress in humans. Here we show that participants who experienced acute social stress, induced by a standardized laboratory stressor, engaged in substantially more prosocial behavior (trust, trustworthiness, and sharing) compared with participants in a control condition, who did not experience socioevaluative threat. These effects were highly specific: Stress did not affect the readiness to exhibit antisocial behavior or to bear nonsocial risks. These results show that stress triggers social approach behavior, which operates as a potent stress-buffering strategy in humans, thereby providing evidence for the tend-and-befriend hypothesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Games, Experimental
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Trust / psychology
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone