As the subjects completed the assignment, they were randomly assigned to one of three conditions. They either had their significant other sitting quietly in the room or they were instructed to think about their romantic partner as a source of support or to reflect on their day.
The team measured the group’s blood pressure, heart rate and heart rate variability before, during and after the task.
After analyzing the results, they found those who had their partner physically present or those who thought about their partner had a lower blood pressure response to the task, compared to the others.
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"The findings may help explain, in part, why high-quality romantic relationships are consistently associated with positive health outcomes in the scientific literature," coauthor Kyle Bourassa said in a statement. "And it appears that thinking of your partner as a source of support can be just as powerful as actually having them present."
The authors noted their limitations. They only assessed college students but hope to observe people of various age ranges. Nevertheless, they believe romantic relationships can help with stress.
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“There are many situations, including at work, with school exams or even during medical procedures, where we would benefit from limiting our degree of blood pressure reactivity,” Bourassa said, “and these findings suggest that a relational approach to doing so can be quite powerful.”