Social Support Attenuates Physiological Stress Responses and Experimental Pain Sensitivity to Cold Pressor Pain

Ann Behav Med. 2015 Aug;49(4):557-69. doi: 10.1007/s12160-015-9686-3.


Background: Social support improves health and has been shown to attenuate stress and pain. The precise characteristics of social support responsible for these effects, however, remain elusive.

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to examine the relative efficacy of social support versus a neutral non-verbal social presence to attenuate stress and pain.

Methods: Seventy-six participants provided pain ratings and task assessments during a cold pressor task (CPT) in one of three conditions: verbal social support, neutral non-support, or alone. Reactivity to the CPT was assessed via cardiovascular measures, cortisol, and subjective ratings.

Results: Participants receiving social support showed attenuated blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol reactivity, as well as reduced pain ratings, task difficulty, tension, and effort compared to neutral non-support and alone conditions.

Conclusions: Social support, not the mere presence of another individual, attenuated stress and pain during a CPT. Given the negative health consequences of stress and pain, clinical studies incorporating social support into medical procedures and treatments are warranted.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Social Support*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone