Social support effects on cardiovascular reactivity: is a stranger as effective as a friend?

Psychosom Med. Jul-Aug 1997;59(4):388-98. doi: 10.1097/00006842-199707000-00009.


Objective: We investigated whether the effects on cardiovascular reactivity of social support from an audience member depend only on the behavior of that person or also depend on the relationship between the audience and the actor. That is, is there any added reduction in physiological response if the person who is nodding and smiling supportively is also a friend?

Method: Ninety subjects gave a speech to an observer. In two of the conditions, this observer was a confederate of the experimenter and a stranger to the subject. This confederate acted in either a supportive or neutral manner during the speech. In the final condition, this observer was a friend, brought by the subject, who was then trained to show support in the same manner as the supportive confederate. The comparison of the two confederate conditions tested the effect of support, holding the relationship constant. The comparison of friend and confederate supportive conditions tested the effect of the relationship, holding the supportive behaviors constant. All participants were female.

Results: Both supportive conditions produced significantly smaller cardiovascular increases than the confederate-neutral condition, and the friend-supportive condition produced significantly smaller systolic blood pressure increases than the confederate-supportive (friend-supportive: 7.9 mm Hg: confederate-supportive: 14.9 mm Hg; confederate-neutral: 22.9 mm Hg). Differences for diastolic pressure and heart rate were not significant, although the data followed the same pattern.

Conclusions: Social support from a friend attenuated cardiovascular reactivity in a laboratory setting to a greater degree than support from a stranger. The subjects' construal of the supportive behaviors can have an effect on reactivity, over and above the effects of the actual behaviors themselves.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Psychophysiology
  • Social Environment
  • Social Support*