Send to

Choose Destination
Psychol Bull. 2014 Jan;140(1):256-82. doi: 10.1037/a0032671. Epub 2013 Apr 22.

Psychobiological mechanisms underlying the social buffering of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis: a review of animal models and human studies across development.

Author information

Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota.
Emotional Brain Institute, Nathan S. Kline Institute, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, New York University Langone Medical Center.


Discovering the stress-buffering effects of social relationships has been one of the major findings in psychobiology in the last century. However, an understanding of the underlying neurobiological and psychological mechanisms of this buffering is only beginning to emerge. An important avenue of this research concerns the neurocircuitry that can regulate the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. The present review is a translational effort aimed at integrating animal models and human studies of the social regulation of the HPA axis from infancy to adulthood, specifically focusing on the process that has been named social buffering. This process has been noted across species and consists of a dampened HPA axis stress response to threat or challenge that occurs with the presence or assistance of a conspecific. We describe aspects of the relevant underlying neurobiology when enough information exists and expose major gaps in our understanding across all domains of the literatures we aimed to integrate. We provide a working conceptual model focused on the role of oxytocinergic systems and prefrontal neural networks as 2 of the putative biological mediators of this process, and propose that the role of early experiences is critical in shaping later social buffering effects. This synthesis points to both general future directions and specific experiments that need to be conducted to build a more comprehensive model of the HPA social buffering effect across the life span that incorporates multiple levels of analysis: neuroendocrine, behavioral, and social.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for American Psychological Association Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center