Eating well, exercising, no smoking, meaningful social connections. You probably know all of these are essential components to living a healthy life. But did you know that giving support – being the shoulder to cry on, showing up with your friend’s favorite food after a hard day – may also play a large role in well-being?
A study recently published in Psychosomatic Medicine suggests that it is providing support – not being on the receiving end – that may be contributing to the stress-buffering effects of a strong social network. While both giving and receiving social support are associated with better psychosocial outcomes, our brains may benefit more from giving. The research team determined this by observing people’s brain activity during a stressful math task. Overall, people who provided more social support had patterns of brain activity indicative of lower stress (if you want to get specific, there was reduced blood flow to the dACC, anterior insula, and amygdala). Moreover, these people had increased blood flow to areas associated with rewards during a prosocial (donating money) task.
However, it’s possible that people who give more social support are in more privileged positions (of power, of money, of resources, etc.), so they – no surprise – are less affected by stressful math tasks. Regardless, providing support helps strengthen our social ties and brings us closer together, even if the direct act of providing support isn’t the cause. So what do you think… is bringing your pal chicken soup after a hard day good for your health, or is it just good for your friendship? Let me know in the comments!
This post is part of the Psy-Friday series; every Friday Zan talks about findings in psychology, and how knowing the mind can influence health and well-being.