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Psychol Sci. 2012 Jun;23(6):651-60. doi: 10.1177/0956797611431576. Epub 2012 May 16.

The social dimension of stress reactivity: acute stress increases prosocial behavior in humans.

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Department of Psychology, Laboratory for Biological and Personality Psychology, University of Freiburg, Germany.

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  • Psychol Sci. 2012 Jul 1;23(7):829.


Psychosocial stress precipitates a wide spectrum of diseases with major public-health significance. The fight-or-flight response is generally regarded as the prototypic human stress response, both physiologically and behaviorally. Given that having positive social interactions before being exposed to acute stress plays a preeminent role in helping individuals control their stress response, engaging in prosocial behavior in response to stress (tend-and-befriend) might also be a protective pattern. Little is known, however, about the immediate social responses following stress in humans. Here we show that participants who experienced acute social stress, induced by a standardized laboratory stressor, engaged in substantially more prosocial behavior (trust, trustworthiness, and sharing) compared with participants in a control condition, who did not experience socioevaluative threat. These effects were highly specific: Stress did not affect the readiness to exhibit antisocial behavior or to bear nonsocial risks. These results show that stress triggers social approach behavior, which operates as a potent stress-buffering strategy in humans, thereby providing evidence for the tend-and-befriend hypothesis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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