Objective—Social support is associated with better health. This association may be partly mediated through the social regulation of adrenomedullary activity related to poor cardiovascular health and glucocorticoid activity known to inhibit immune functioning. These physiological cascades originate in the hypothalamic areas that are involved in the neural response to threat. We investigated whether the down regulation, by social support, of hypothalamic responses to threat is associated with better subjective health.
Methods—A diverse community sample of seventy-five individuals, ages 23–26, were recruited from an ongoing longitudinal study. Participants completed the Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) a well-validated self report measure used to assess subjective general health. They were scanned, using fMRI, during a threat of shock paradigm involving various levels of social support, which was manipulated using hand-holding from a close relational partner, a stranger, and an alone condition. We focused on a hypothalamic region of interest (ROI) derived from an independent sample to examine the association between hypothalamic activity and subjective general health.
Results—Results revealed a significant interaction between handholding condition and selfreported general health, F(2, 72) = 3.53, p = .032, partial η 2 = .05. Down regulation of the hypothalamic ROI during partner handholding corresponded with higher self-ratings of general health, ß □= −.31, p =.007.
Conclusion—Higher self-ratings of general health correspond with decreased hypothalamic activity during a task that blends threat with supportive handholding. These results suggest that associations between social support and health are partly mediated through the social regulation of hypothalamic sensitivity to threat.
The potential importance of depending on others during adolescence in order to establish independence in young adulthood was examined across adolescence to emerging adulthood. Participants included 184 teens (46% male; 42% non-White), their mothers, best friends, and romantic partners, assessed at ages 13–14, 18, 21–22, and 25. Path analyses showed that associations were both partner and age specific: markers of independence were predicted by participants’ efforts to seek support from mothers at age 13, best friends at 18, and romantic partners at 21. Importantly, analyses controlled for support seeking from these partners at other ages, as well as for other potentially confounding variables including attachment security, scholastic/job competence, and physical attractiveness over time. Moreover, analyses suggested the transfer of support seeking behavior from mothers to best friends to romantic partners over time based on support given by the previous partner at an earlier age.
Negativity in parent–child relationships during adolescence has been viewed as a risk factor for teens’ future personal and interpersonal adjustment. This study examined support from romantic partners and close friends during late adolescence as protective against maternal negativity experienced during early adolescence. A combination of observational, self-report, and peer-report measures were obtained from a community sample of 97 youth (58 % female), their mothers, closest friends, and romantic partners assessed at ages 13, 18, and 20. Moderating effects suggested a protective effect of romantic support against maternal negativity across a variety of psychosocial outcomes, including depressive symptoms, self-worth, social withdrawal, and externalizing behavior. Protective effects were found even after controlling for initial levels of outcome behavior and observed support from close friends throughout adolescence. Receiving support from a romantic partner may provide teens with new, positive ways of coping with adversity and help them avoid more serious distress that may be predicted from maternal negativity when such support is not available.
Middle adolescents’ close friendship strength and the degree to which their broader peer group expressed a preference to afﬁliate with them were examined as predictors of relative change in depressive symptoms, self-worth, and social anxiety symptoms from ages 15 to 25 using multimethod, longitudinal data from 169 adolescents. Close friendship strength in midadolescence predicted relative increases in self-worth and decreases in anxiety and depressive symptoms by early adulthood. Afﬁliation preference by the broader peer group, in contrast, predicted higher social anxiety by early adulthood. Results are interpreted as suggesting that adolescents who prioritize forming close friendships are better situated to manage key social developmental tasks going forward than adolescents who prioritize attaining preference with many others in their peer milieu.