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Objectives

Social support is thought to positively influence appraisals of stressors and coping resources, thereby attenuating the harmful effects of stress. Notably, perceived available support (rather than actually received support) is believed to benefit well-being independent of the sense of obligation or threats to self-esteem that receiving support may entail. This study examined whether perceived support levels were associated with reduced cardiovascular levels, an important predictor of cardiovascular disease risk, independent of broad trait personality variables frequently reported to overlap with perceived support. In doing so, we sought to determine whether the effects of perceived support are independent of links between personality and social support.

Design

A cross-sectional design was employed.

Methods

Resting cardiovascular levels were measured using a Finometer in a sample of healthy women (N = 145). The Short-Form Social Support Questionnaire and the Revised Eysenck's Personality Questionnaire were used to assess support levels and personality. Regression was used to compare associations with psychometric indices of support (namely, perceived network size and perceived satisfaction with support) and personality (psychoticism, extraversion and neuroticism).

Results

Support independently predicted systolic blood pressure (SBP; p = .03) and HR (p = .02) when personality was controlled for, while personality also predicted SBP (p = .01) and DBP (p = .02). Support effects were not mediated by personality.

Conclusions

The findings corroborate previous research indicating links between support and resting cardiovascular levels and additionally demonstrate these to be independent of associations between support and personality.

Statement of contribution

What is already known on this subject? Social support is known to have several physical health benefits particularly for cardiovascular function. Studies have demonstrated psychometrically assessed support to predict reduced resting cardiovascular levels. Other work links support significantly with trait personality, particularly extraversion and neuroticism.

What does this study add? Corroborating previous studies, social support was associated with reduced systolic blood pressure and heart rate. Importantly, these results remained robust to controlling for trait personality. The effects of support on cardiovascular levels are independent of personality influences on social support levels.