The impacts of social buffering on parents’ self-reported and cardiac responsivity to a remote stress induction
Elevated and chronic levels of parenting stress in the early years of a child’s life can have detrimental effects on social, cognitive, and emotional developmental outcomes. Canadian parents of young children reported significant elevations in stress levels during the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted a need to identify reliable methods of inducing and buffering stress remotely in this population. The primary objectives of the present study were (1) to assess whether a novel, internet-delivered version of the TSST (iTSST) could induce acute psychosocial stress in a sample of parents, and (2) to examine the impact of social buffering on parents’ perceived and biological reactivity following exposure to the iTSST. Self-identified parents (N = 60; n = 16, control; n = 24, stressor only; n = 20, stressor plus social buffering; 60.0% non-White) of children under 48 months old completed a 1 hr Zoom assessment during which the iTSST/placebo protocol was administered. Self-reports of stress and anxiety, along with smartphone measures of photoplethysmography, were collected throughout the assessment to assess reactivity to, and recovery from, the iTSST. Findings revealed that parents who completed the iTSST exhibited significant elevations in stress and anxiety as compared to pre-iTSST levels and parents who completed the placebo procedures. No evidence of reactivity effects on heart rate were observed. Additionally, no evidence of a significant buffering effect emerged; however, it was notable that parents who interacted with a friend, romantic partner, or family member post-iTSST showed a non-significant trend of lower self-reported stress and anxiety relative to parents who engaged in an article reading period post-iTSST. Results of the present study further validate the efficacy of the iTSST in eliciting significant self-reported reactivity in a sample of exclusively parents. Implications and considerations for future studies involving remote stress induction and buffering in parents and racially diverse samples are discussed.
parents, acute stress, Trier Social Stress Test, self-reported stress, photoplethysmography, social buffering