Your Blood Pressure Affected by Spouse’s Social Network

Bert Uchino PhD Department of Psychology and Health Psychology Program University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Interview with: Bert Uchino PhD
Department of Psychology and Health Psychology Program
University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Uchino:
The main findings from our paper is that independent of one’s own social network quality, the quality of a spouse’s social network was related to daily life ambulatory blood pressure (ABP) levels.  More specifically, the more supportive (positive) ties, and the less aversive (negative) or ambivalent (both positive and negative) ties in a spouse’s social network, the lower was one’s own  ABP.  In addition, looking at the social networks of couples as a whole showed that couples who combined had more supportive ties and less aversive or ambivalent ties showed lower ABP. Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Uchino: These findings were not unexpected given that prior work by researchers such as Dr. Repetti at UCLA has shown that social interactions outside of the marriage can “spillover” and create problems at home (e.g., negative mood, social withdrawal).  However, it is the only study that we know of that extends such processes to potential health outcomes given that some of the differences that emerged met or exceeded cut-offs for “normal” ABP. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Uchino: There is now a large epidemiological literature showing that relationships quality can influence health-relevant biological processes (e.g., blood pressure, inflammation) as well as mortality as shown by the recent meta-analysis by Dr. Holt-Lunstad at Brigham Young University.  Just as some physicians ask patients about their stress or depression levels and the importance of managing it – similar issues can be asked about one’s relationships.  For instance, it brings up the possibility of screening patients and their spouses for the quality of their relationships.  For patients, I believe that it highlights the fact that the quality of our relationship has a real impact on how our body is functioning.  It also underscores the importance of taking time to cultivate our relationships and make time for those individuals who are truly sources of support and perhaps minimize contact or try to resolve the more negative relationships in their lives. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Uchino: This research has some overlap with the ideas of Dr. Christakis at Harvard University on social contagion.  In his seminal work, obesity is linked up to 2 to 3 degrees of network separation.  It makes me wonder how far these relationship quality influences on ABP extend along the social networks of our friends and family and so on.  Similarly, do these processes also influence the health trajectory of children whose parents have poor quality relationships?  Finally, one of the most pressing issues is to uncover the mechanisms responsible for these links.  We discussed a few (e.g., emotional spillover, defensive concern etc.) but future work will be needed to flush out these possibilities.


The Quality of Spouses’ Social Networks Contributes to Each Other’s Cardiovascular Risk
Bert N. Uchino mail,  Timothy W. Smith, McKenzie Carlisle,  Wendy C. Birmingham, Kathleen C. Light
26 Jul 2013  PLoS ONE