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Effect of Social Support on the Cardiovascular Reactivity Using the Fire-fighting Simulation


Effectof Social Support on the Cardiovascular Reactivity Using theFire-fighting Simulation



Thestudy is about the effect of social support on the cardiovascularreactivity, namely heart rate (HR), systolic blood pressure (SBP),and diastolic blood pressure (DBP). The participants were healthyuniversity students. The participants have been employed tofire-fighting simulation and their stress ratings were monitored.Fire-fighting simulation is used to actively create a psychologicalstress on the participants to study their reaction on differentstress levels. The results show the effectively of the simulation toincur stress, the difference of the stress rating between support andno-support condition and the correlation between stress task levelsand the stress ratings.

Evidenceshows that social support may be an important determinant of humanhealth, as measured by a wide variety of indices of mortality,morbidity, and psychological well being (Kamarck, 1992 Orth – G omér&amp Johnson, 1987 Uchino, Cacioppo, &amp Kiecolt-Glaser, 1996).Several reviews have reported social support to be inversely relatedto total mortality (Eriksen, 1994 Schwarzer &amp Leppin, 1989),total morbidity (Schwarzer &amp Leppin, 1989 Smith, Fernengel, Holcroft, Gerald, &amp Marien, 1994), cardiovascular mortality(Krantz &amp McCeney, 2002), cardiovascular morbidity (Krantz &ampMcCeney, 2002 Orth- Gomér, 1994), and changes in cardiovascularreactivity based on the difference between task levels and baselinelevels of cardiovascular indicators (Thorsteinsson &amp James,1999).

Itis important to understand how social support may influence health sothat the effects of support on health can be optimised. Despite theevidence for the health benefits of social support, there is stilllimited knowledge about underlying physiological mechanisms (Orth -Gomér, 2000). Cardiovascular reactivity has been suggested as apotential underlying physiological mechanisms (mediator) of thebenefits of social support on health such that social support affectsreactivity that in turn affects health, and experimental studies havebeen conducted (e.g., Hilmert, Christenfeld, &amp Kulik, 2002Kamarck, Manuck, &amp Jennings, 1990 Lepore, Allen, &amp Evans,1993 Thorsteinsson, James, &amp Gregg, 1998). Much of this workderives from the &quotreactivity&quot hypothesis, which states thatexcessive cardiovascular reactivity and episodic psychological stresscontributes to the development of hypertension and cardiovasculardisease (Krantz et al., 1991 Krantz &amp Manuck, 1984 Lepore,1998 Manuck, Kasprowicz, &amp Muldoon, 1990 Obrist, 1981).

Participantsin experimental studies have generally performed “active”laboratory challenges (e.g., public speaking, mental arithmetic),while receiving either supportive verbal (e.g., good, well done, youare doing fine) or silent supportive gestures (e.g., presence of afriend, smiles, nods) as compared with experiencing a neutral (no-support) silent presence of a confederate (i.e., an assistant to theresearcher) or simply conducting the challenge alone. Generally,heart rate (HR), systolic blood pressure (SBP), and diastolic bloodpressure (DBP) reactivity are monitored (see Lepore, 1998Thorsteinsson &amp James, 1999), but findings have been mixed(Thorsteinsson &amp James, 1999). The trend has been for support toreduce HR, SBP, and DBP reactivity, but effect sizes have varied fromsmall to large and some studies have reported that support increasedHR reactivity (for a meta-analytic review see Thorsteinsson &ampJames, 1999). These findings suggest that the effects of socialsupport manipulations are dependent on several factors such as typeof challenge, type of support, and the relationship between theparticipant and the support provider. Little attention has been givento the effects of support on subjective experience of stress duringstressful situations and the possible effects stress and arousal mayhave on cardiovascular indicators, but there is some indication thatsubjective stress is affected by support (Thorsteinsson, James, &ampGregg, 1996).


Theobjective of the study is to show the effect of support on thecardiovascular reactivity of the participants using the fire-fightingsimulation. It also aims to effectively incur psychological stress tothe participants using the fir-fighting simulation.


  1. The stressful task will increase the subjective stress rating above a score of 50.

  2. The stressful task will increase the SBP.

  3. The support condition will reduce the HR reactivity compared with no support condition.

  4. The support condition will reduce the SBP reactivity compared with the no support condition.

  5. There will be a positive association between subjective stress levels and cardiovascular reactivity.

Materialsand Methods


Theparticipants were university students that volunteered toparticipate. There were 40 healthy volunteers with both male andfemale. The University’s human ethics committee approved theconduction of the study. The age and the BMI of the participants arerecorded for classifying the healthy ones. The reactivity conditionsof the participants were recorded and the participants that exceedthe SBP/DBP of 140/90 mmHg were excluded for the study. Theparticipants are asked to answer a few questions in a questionnaireto assure that the participants are all healthy and nonsmokers. Uponthe completion of the laboratory session, participants were paidAUS10.


FinapresContinuous Blood Pressure NIBP Monitor model 2300E(Ohmeda, OhmedaHouse, Hertfordshire, England) was used in combination with thededicated data-processing software (‘Modelflo’ fast-mf system,TNO Biomedical Instrumentation Research Unit, Amsterdam, TheNetherlands) for hemodynamic measuring. BP, SBP, and DBP weremeasured using finapres which was placed on the third digit of thenon-dominant hand. The study also used the modified version of aself-report stress and arousal inventory which had a Cronbach’salpha of 0.81 (Mackay, Cox, Burrows, and Lazzerini).


Theparticipants were randomly assigned to one of the two conditionswhich is support or no-support. Then they were participated in a5-minute fire Chief computer challenge. It is a computerizedmicroworld generator used to create a simulation of firefighting.This simulation is intended to create real life stress and making theparticipant to have a complex decision making. The participant usesthe mouse to move the computer icons representing the truck and thefirefighting helicopter to extinguish the fire that is rapidlyspreading in the forest. Their reactivity conditions were measuredbefore and after the task.

Thereare two conditions in the study, the support and no-supportcondition, but they have the same task. The difference is in thereaction of the confederate. This is to study the effect of supportto the stress task. They were told that a confederate who has thesame gender as the participant who had a considerable experience indealing with a computer task would appear into the monitor. Participants in the support condition were given positive comments bythe confederate on his or her performance while in the no-supportcondition, confederate made no comments. The comments have norelation to the participant’s performance or it does not mean theyare really doing well. The confederate was shown sitting in front ofthe computer screen on which the participant’s work appeared to bedisplayed. It only shows that the confederate is monitoring theparticipant’s performance. To maintain the consistency, aprerecording of the confederate was shown in the support andno-support condition across participants.


Testingthe Hypothesis

  1. The stressful task will increase the subjective stress rating above a score of 50.

Datashows the measured stress rating (µ=58.49,SD = 12.16).From the hypothesis, the expected value of µ= 50for a sample of n= 40 thecritical value should not exceed t=1.684. Statistical data shows that the subjective stress ratingsignificantly increases as the stressful task were made, t(39)= 4.416, p&lt 0.05, one-tailed.It means the stressful task has an effect to the stress ratings. Italso shows that we are 95% confident the mean value of HR of theuniversity students after the stressful task is between 45.0&ltµ&lt62.38

  1. The stressful task will increase the SBP

Withthe sample size of n=40,then df= 39. The critical value that is obtain is t=-1.684for a one-tailed test with α=0.05. The study shows thatparticipating in the stressful task significantly increased the SBPof the participants,t(39)=-12.381, p&lt0.05, one-tailed.

Figure1. Distribution of the SBP during the task.

  1. The support condition will reduce the HR reactivity compared with no support condition.

.One-tailed t-test with α=0.05 shows a critical value of t=-1.680.The statistical analysis shows that there is no significant reductionof HR reactivity between the support condition (µ=12.20,SD=4.36)compared to the no-support condition (µ=17.35,SD=19.65),t(38)=-1.144,p&lt0.05,one-tailed.

  1. The support condition will reduce the SBP reactivity compared with the no support condition.

One-tailedt-test with α=0.05 shows a critical value of t=-1.680.The statistical analysis shows that there is no significant reductionof SBP reactivity between the support condition (µ=12.20,SD=4.36)compared to the no-support condition (µ=17.35,SD=19.65),t(38)=-1.144,p&lt0.05,one-tailed.

  1. There will be a positive association between subjective stress levels and cardiovascular reactivity.

Thestatistics shows the there is weak significant relation between thesubjective stress and the cardio vascular reactivity (HR:r=+0.345, n=40, p&lt0.05, one-tailed. SBP: r=+0.191, n=40, p&lt0.05,one-tailed. DBP: r=+0.232, n=40, p&lt0.05, one-tailed.)

Table1. Correlation matrix for stressful task, HR, SBP and DBP

Stressfull Task




Stressfull Task
















n=40,p&lt0.05, one-tailed

TheTable 1 shows the correlation between the stressful task and thecardiovascular reactivity as well as the correlation between thereactivities themselves. The table noted the strongest positiveassociation which is the stressful task’s relation with theparticipants HR.


Previousstudies show the effect of frequent increase in the cardiovascularreactivities caused by psychological stress may contribute tohypertension and other cardiovascular disease. The participants weremade to undergo simulation tests and their HR, SBP and DBP weremonitored. The study shows that the stressful task undergone by theparticipants has a significant effect on their cardiovascularreactivity. On the test of the first and the second hypothesis, itshows that the stressful task increases the HR (µ=58.49,SD=12.161)and the SBP (d=21.375,SD=10.919)of the participants. This means the study is using an effective wayof incurring psychological stress on the participants and theirreaction is a valid data for studying the effect of support. Thehypothesis is supported by the analysis of data.

Thestudy uses the support of confederate which the participants onlyrecognized during the laboratory session. The kind of support theconfederate was using is their words and silence for the no-supportcondition. The study shows no significant effect of the support onthe cardiovascular reactivity. Although it shows a little decrease inthe participants stress rating, it is not significant to concludethat the support action reduces the stress rating. The study islimited to a support that is given by a stranger although he or shewas made to have a good subject for a comment to be valid. The studyonly shows that this kind of support has a low effect on thecardiovascular reactivity although the statistics partially supportsthe hypothesis.

Thestudy also aims to find an association between the stress levels andthe cardiovascular reactivity. The correlation or association givenby the levels of stress task and the stress ratings of theparticipant is weak. Although it shows a positive correlationspecifically on the participants HR which gives the highestcorrelation among the subjects, it is not enough to say that thesimulation is giving different levels of stressful tasks. Since allthe correlation gives a positive value, even if they are weak, thestatistical analysis shows partial support on the hypothesis.


Differentstress task can be given to the participants and fire-fightingsimulation is a good way of increasing the stress ratings of theparticipants. The support of the confederate has no significant useto reduce the stress rating but it shows partial reduction. The studyis only limited to that kind of support. The study recommends the useof other kinds of support such as the support of the person relatedto them like their friends or family. Different stress levels are notrelatively shown in using the fire-fighting simulation increase thestress ratings.


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