, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 247-256

The effects of the social environment on stress-related cardiovascular activation: Current findings, prospects, and implications

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Social relationships have been shown to be health-protective and to improve cardiovascular disease prognosis. One of the mechanisms by which social relationships may alter health status is through altering patterns of neuroendocrine or hemodynamic responding to ongoing activity. For example, research with non-human primates suggests that disrupted social relationships may increase cardiovascular risk through their effects on sympathetic nervous system activation. In humans, a number of recent reports have shown that the presence of an affiliative companion can reduce cardiovascular activity during psychologically challenging tasks, results which are consistent with this proposed mechanism of effect. We review the recent human literature which has examined the effects of the social environment on stress-related cardiovascular activity. Although findings in this literature are generally consistent, recent anomalous results are reviewed which shed light on some of the context-dependent effects of social affiliation. Additional areas for further investigation are examined, including possible mechanisms for explaining these social affiliation effects, individual differences which may moderate these effects, and emerging methodological advances for examining how these effects may generalize to the natural environment.