Virtual social support buffers stress response: An experimental comparison of real-life and virtual support prior to a social stressor

Virtual social support buffers stress response: An experimental comparison of real-life and virtual support prior to a social stressor

Abstract

Background and objectives Face-to-face and text-based social support have been shown to attenuate stress responses in past studies. Yet as social interactions increasingly take place online by means of virtual humans, our objective was to examine whether different forms of social support (virtual vs. real) prior to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) would also decrease stress. Additionally, the effect on subsequent real-life social behaviors (helping and approach) was evaluated while controlling for affective states and social presence. Methods 56 participants were either supported by an avatar, an agent, a real human or received no support before completing the TSST and two subsequent social behavior tasks (pen task and seating task). Results Results show no difference in agency regarding social presence. Yet, participants with agent support and no support had significantly higher heart rates during the TSST and reported to be more worried. Also, they were more irritated and showed significantly slower helping reactions (picking up pens). Limitations A limitation to this study is that only emotional verbal and non-verbal support were provided by a stranger. Different forms of support as well as a different source (i.e., a friend) may have a more pronounced effect on stress buffering. Conclusions Virtual social support is as effective as face-to-face support in terms of stress buffering, as long as the recipient has the impression that it is provided by another human (via an avatar). This has wide ranging implications not only for health-related application in prevention and treatment but also for further research.

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Authors
  • Kothgassner, Oswald
  • Goreis, Andreas
  • Kafka, Johanna X.
  • Kaufmann, Marlene
  • Atteneder, Katharina
  • Beutl, Leon
  • Hennig-Fast, Kristina
  • Hlavacs, Helmut
  • Felnhofer, Anna
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Shortfacts
Category
Journal Paper
Divisions
Entertainment Computing
Journal or Publication Title
Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
ISSN
0005-7916
Page Range
57 - 65
Volume
63
Date
June 2019
Official URL
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S...
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