Emotional arousal predicts observed social support in German and American couples talking about breast cancer.
Social support in couples often occurs during conversations and is an important predictor of positive outcomes in patients with breast cancer. Even though talking about cancer may be upsetting, vocally expressed emotional arousal and its association with social support have not been examined. The goal of this study was to examine the role of vocally encoded emotional arousal and social support behaviors in 129 German and American couples, assessed at baseline of clinical trials for women with breast cancer and their male partners. Range of fundamental frequency was used as a measure of expressed emotional arousal during videotaped interactions in which the women shared cancer-related concerns. Social support behaviors were assessed as specific social support behaviors at the talk-turn level (positive, neutral, and negative) and broader communication behaviors also relevant to social support at the global level (depth and articulation, caring, quality of communication) using the Social Support Interaction Coding System (Bradbury & Pasch, 1994). Data were analyzed using actor-partner interdependence models. Women displayed more positive, fewer neutral support-receiving behaviors, and greater depth and articulation if their own emotional arousal was higher. Women also displayed more neutral and (at the trend level) fewer positive support-receiving behaviors if their partners' emotional arousal was higher. Men's behaviors were not associated with their own or women's emotional arousal. Results indicate that it may be adaptive for women with cancer to openly experience their distress during social support conversations with their partners; high emotional arousal of the partners may interfere with this process.
Fischer, MS; Baucom, DH; Baucom, BR; Weusthoff, S; Hahlweg, K; Atkins, DC; Porter, LS; Zimmermann, T
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