Viewing Loved Faces Inhibits Defense Reactions: A Health-Promotion Mechanism?
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AuthorGuerra Muñoz, Pedro María; Sánchez Adam, Alicia; Anllo Vento, Lourdes; Ramírez, Isabel; Vila Castellar, Jaime
Public Library of Science (PLOS)
Analysis of varianceFaceFacies (medical)FathersHeart rateInterpersonal relationshipsMothersReflexes
Guerra, P.; et al. Viewing Loved Faces Inhibits Defense Reactions: A Health-Promotion Mechanism?. Plos One, 7(7): e41631 (2012). [http://hdl.handle.net/10481/30787]
SponsorshipThis research was funded by grant P07-SEJ-02964 from Junta de Andalucía (Spain).
We have known for decades that social support is associated with positive health outcomes. And yet, the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying this association remain poorly understood. The link between social support and positive health outcomes is likely to depend on the neurophysiological regulatory mechanisms underlying reward and defensive reactions. The present study examines the hypothesis that emotional social support (love) provides safety cues that activate the appetitive reward system and simultaneously inhibit defense reactions. Using the startle probe paradigm, 54 undergraduate students (24 men) viewed black and white photographs of loved (romantic partner, father, mother, and best friend), neutral (unknown), and unpleasant (mutilated) faces. Eye–blink startle, zygomatic major activity, heart rate, and skin conductance responses to the faces, together with subjective ratings of valence, arousal, and dominance, were obtained. Viewing loved faces induced a marked inhibition of the eye-blink startle response accompanied by a pattern of zygomatic, heart rate, skin conductance, and subjective changes indicative of an intense positive emotional response. Effects were similar for men and women, but the startle inhibition and the zygomatic response were larger in female participants. A comparison between the faces of the romantic partner and the parent who shares the partner’s gender further suggests that this effect is not attributable to familiarity or arousal. We conclude that this inhibitory capacity may contribute to the health benefits associated with social support.