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Giving support to others reduces sympathetic nervous system-related responses to stress.


Social support is a major contributor to the link between social ties and beneficial health outcomes. Research to date has focused on how receiving support from others might be good for us; however, we know less about the health effects of giving support to others. Based on prior work in animals showing that stimulating neural circuitry important for caregiving behavior can reduce sympathetic-related responses to stressors, it is possible that, in humans, giving to others can reduce stressor-evoked sympathetic nervous system responding, which has implications for health outcomes. To test the effect of giving support on the physiological stress response, participants either wrote a supportive note to a friend (support-giving condition) or wrote about their route to school/work (control condition) before undergoing a standard laboratory-based stress task. Physiological responses (heart rate, blood pressure, salivary alpha-amylase, salivary cortisol), and self-reported stress were collected throughout the protocol. In line with hypotheses, support giving (vs. control) reduced sympathetic-related responses (systolic blood pressure and alpha-amylase) to the stressor. No effects of support giving were found on self-reported psychological stress or cortisol levels. Results add to existing knowledge of the pathways by which support giving may lead to health benefits and highlight the contribution of giving to others in the broader social support-health link.

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