Poor social integration increases risk for poor health. The psychobiological pathways underlying this effect are not well-understood.
This study utilized a migration stress model to prospectively investigate the impact of social integration on change in high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV), a marker of autonomic functioning.
Sixty new international students were recruited shortly after their arrival in the host country and assessed 2 and 5 months later. At each assessment period, participants provided information on social integration and loneliness and had their resting HF-HRV evaluated.
There was an overall decrease in HF-HRV over time. The magnitude of the within-person and between-person effects of social integration on HRV increased over time, such that greater social integration was associated with higher HF-HRV at later follow-ups.
These results suggest that altered autonomic functioning might represent a key pathway linking social integration to health outcomes.
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This research was supported by grants from the Canada Research Chair program as well as the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The authors would like to thank Diana Sitoianu and Daysi Zentner for their assistance in data collection.
Authors’ Statement of Conflict of Interest and Adherence to Ethical Standards
Authors Gouin, Zhou, and Fitzpatrick declare that they have no conflict of interest. All procedures, including the informed consent process, were conducted in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000.
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Gouin, JP., Zhou, B. & Fitzpatrick, S. Social Integration Prospectively Predicts Changes in Heart Rate Variability Among Individuals Undergoing Migration Stress. ann. behav. med. 49, 230–238 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-014-9650-7