William L (1997) defines stress as ‘a bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium’. So for example, if it is hot, this can stress the body’s equilibrium and it tries to compensate by making the body sweat and return the body to equilibrium state again. This is an example of a physical stressor but it’s also possible to be psychologically stressed. For example if it is a dark night, the sound of footsteps behind you could make the heart start pumping faster and for you to start breathing faster, a physiological response from a psychological stressor. This has become a very big and common problem (Alix Kirsta 1986) with around 40 million working days lost each year due to the effects of stress. This study will be looking at the relationship between social support and stress and looking at the Trier Social Stress Test by Kirschbaum, C., Pirke, K.-M., & Hellhammer, D. H. (1993).
Stephen J. Lepore, PHD, Karen A. Mata Allen, BA, and Gary W. Evans, PHD conducted a study to see if being in the presence of a supportive confederate or in the presence of a non-supportive confederate would affect the cardiovascular responses of the participants. They found that supported and alone subjects exhibited significantly smaller increases in systolic and diastolic blood pressures than non-supported subjects. This means that in the presence of a supportive person, participants tend to be less stressed. More evidence comes from the Anna C. Phillips, Ph.D. & Stephen Gallagher, Ph.D (2009) study, which looked at cardiovascular reactivity to acute stress and had 3 different variables; stranger or friend presence, active supportive or passive presence, and male or female presence. The results showed that when in the presence of a friend, the participant’s blood pressure was not elevated and therefore was not stressed, but only when the supporter was a male friend. Only when in the presence of a female friend or male stranger, the participant’s blood pressure was higher. This study highlights that when there is a friend or stranger with the participant the friend or stranger’s gender is an important factor. Further work from Karen M. Allen, Jim Blascovich, Joe Tomaka, and Robert M. Kelsey (1991) indicated that it’s possible to replace a friend with a pet. They tested people in their homes and found that participants in the friend condition displayed higher physiological reactivity and poorer performance than subjects in the control and pet conditions. They also found that participants in the pet condition showed less physiological reactivity during stressful tasks. As participants in this experiment showed greater physiological response in the friend condition, it is possible that the friend was seen as being more evaluative of the participants and that the answers they gave could have been wrong or embarrassing which would only heighten the stress of the participants. The pet dog would only be there to relieve stress and would not pass judgement on any of the answers the participant gave. From this study, instead of the touch from a pet, maybe the touch of a friend would be beneficial in relieving stress.
Jennifer L. Edens, Kevin T. Larkin and Jennifer L. Abel (1992) looked into the effect touch had on cardiovascular reactions to mental stress.