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Title: Social Allostasis and Social Allostatic Load: A New Model for Research in Social Dynamics, Stress, and Health

Theories such as social baseline theory have argued that social groups serve a regulatory function but have not explored whether this regulatory process carries costs for the group. Allostatic load, the wear and tear on regulatory systems caused by chronic or frequent stress, is marked by diminished stress system flexibility and compromised recovery. We argue that allostatic load may develop within social groups as well and provide a model for how relationship dysfunction operates. Social allostatic load may be characterized by processes such as groups becoming locked into static patterns of interaction and may ultimately lead to up-regulation or down-regulation of a group’s set point, or the optimal range of arousal or affect around which the group tends to converge. Many studies of emotional and physiological linkage within groups have reported that highly correlated states of arousal, which may reflect failure to maintain a group-level regulatory baseline, occur in the context of stress, conflict, and relationship distress. Relationship strain may also place greater demands on neurocognitive regulatory processes. Just as allostatic load may be detrimental to individual health, social allostatic load may corrode relationship quality.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Perspectives on Psychological Science
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 469-482
SAGE Publications
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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