Social Support Can Buffer Against Stress and Shape Brain Activity

Camelia E. Hostinar, Megan R. Gunnar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Social support from close relationship partners is an important resource for coping with stress, particularly during childhood. We discuss ethical challenges associated with studying stress and its social buffering in the laboratory, as well as emerging evidence regarding two potential neural substrates for the social buffering of stress: hypothalamic oxytocin activity and activation of areas in the prefrontal cortex associated with effective self-regulation. We also address the role of early-life social experiences in shaping brain development, as well as recommendations for practice and policy that would advance the ethical treatment of children and reduce social inequalities in early-life experiences and opportunities—for example, investing in programs that prevent child maltreatment and facilitating access to high-quality child care for economically disadvantaged families. We also debate the ethical implications of using oxytocin nasal sprays to simulate the stress-reducing properties of social support and advise waiting for more evidence before recommending their use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-42
Number of pages9
JournalAJOB Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


  • HPA axis
  • cortisol
  • oxytocin
  • prefrontal cortex
  • social support
  • stress


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