Modifiable Social Variables
A number of social parameters have also been identified that influence the nature of the stressor???stress response association. Most notably among these variables is the influence of one’s social network and the support an individual receives from it. Strong social support networks are associated with lesser risk for a wide variety of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer (Uchino et al., 1996).
The onset of chronic diseases, at times resulting in fatal outcomes, is quite prevalent following the loss of significant sources of social support, like the loss of a spouse. In order to examine the role of this type of stress???stress response relation, several investigators have taken these questions into the laboratory. Laboratory investigations of social support have demonstrated that the magnitude of an acute stress response can be significantly reduced by simply having a supportive friend present during the stress presentation (Kamarck, Annunziato, and Amateau, 1995; Uchino, Cacioppo, and Kiecolt-Glaser, 1996).
In several of these laboratory demonstrations, the magnitude of the cardiovascular response to the stressor is approximately half that of those exposed to the stressor alone (Kamarck et al., 1995). Therefore, social support results in attenuated acute stress responses as well as more positive long-term health outcomes.
Several other social variables have been associated with the magnitude and patterning of both acute stress responses and risk for disease. For example, it has been well established that risk for cardiovascular disease is increased among Western countries and persons from Eastern cultures who have acculturated to Western countries (Brown and James, 2000).
Likewise, persons of lower socioeconomic status have been shown to exhibit greater stress responses than those with higher socioeconomic status (Steptoe et al., 2003). Finally, even a relatively simple social behavior, like taking one’s annual vacation, has been shown to affect chronic stress responses positively (Gump and Matthews, 2000). In sum, there are a number of modifiable social parameters that affect both acute stress responses and overall risk for disease.
There are certainly additional factors that influence the magnitude and pattern of both acute and chronic stress responses. For purposes of this book, however, only a few examples with a significant amount of empirical support were selected. Future empirical investigations will certainly reveal new parameters that influence known stressor???stress response associations.