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.