Comparing Visible and Invisible Social Support: Non-evaluative Support Buffers Cardiovascular Responses to Stress

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Previous research suggests that in contrast to invisible social support, visible social support produces exaggerated negative emotional responses. Drawing on work by Bolger and colleagues, this study disentangled social support visibility from negative social evaluation in an examination of the effects of social support on negative emotions and cardiovascular responses. As part of an anticipatory speech task, 73 female participants were randomly assigned to receive no social support, invisible social support, non-confounded visible social support or visible social support as delivered in a 2007 study by Bolger and Amarel. Twelve readings, each for systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure and heart rate were taken at 5-min intervals throughout the periods of baseline, reactivity and recovery. Cardiovascular outcomes were tested by incorporating a series of theoretically driven planned contrasts into tests of stress reactivity conducted through piecewise growth curve modelling. Linear and quadratic trends established cardiovascular reactivity to the task. Further, in comparison to the control and replication conditions, the non-confounded visible and invisible social support conditions attenuated cardiovascular reactivity over time. Pre- and post-speech negative emotional responses were not affected by the social support manipulations. These results suggest that appropriately delivered visible social support may be as beneficial as invisible social support. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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