Do Social Networks Cause Physiological Stress in Children?

social networks cause psychological stress in childrenA recent University of Missouri study has found that children can experience physiological stress because of the quality and the size of their social networks if these are perceived as being inferior to the size and quality of the social networks that their peers have. University of Missouri College of Arts and Science Department of Anthropology chair and professor of biomedical anthropology Dr. Mark V. Flinn explained the study and stated “The typical physiological response to stress is the release of hormones like cortisol into the system. In this study, we wanted to explore the association between children’s personal social networks, as well as perceived social network size and density with biomarkers like cortisol and alpha-amylase that can indicate levels of stress in youth.”

When discussing the potential for physiological stress over social networks in children Dr. Flinn explained “Our goal was to determine if children experience stress because they perceive their networks to be inferior compared to their peers. Determining if social relationships cause stress in children is important because stress can influence human behavior and health later in life. Over the years, we’ve collected data on grandparents, parents, and their children; I’ve observed real kids in their communities, not in a controlled laboratory setting, so the data is unique and highly useful. Using this wealth of knowledge, we were interested in learning how the kids physically responded to the social networks they cultivate. We found that, using the data we collected from the one-on-one interviews, children who were stressed about the size and density of their perceived social networks had elevated anticipatory cortisol levels, and responded by secreting more alpha-amylase. Our study was in line with past research on stress, loneliness, and social support in adults, but we strengthened past research by applying it to children. Future research should consider a multi-system approach like this one to study cognitive and biological mechanisms underlying children’s perception.”

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