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The Social Behaviour That Supports Brain Health

The Social Behaviour That Supports Brain Health post image

Study explores the neural mechanisms of this social behaviour.

Giving support to others has unique positive effects on brain health, a new study finds.

It changes key brain areas related to stress and reward, scientists have found.

Those who regularly give support to others may have a reduced response to stress and be more sensitive to rewards.

People in the study were asked about both whether they had:

  • someone to lean on,
  • and whether they looked for ways to cheer other people up.

As a lot of research has already shown, the authors write:

“Both receiving and giving more support were related to lower reported negative psychosocial outcomes.”

But when they scanned people’s brains, they found some unique effects of providing support to others.

For example, people who regularly gave support to others showed a reduced response in regions of the brain related to stress.

Providing high levels of support to others was also linked to greater activity in parts of the brain related to rewards.

This part of the brain showed greater activation when people looked at pictures of loved ones or thought about sharing their good fortune with others.

Dr Tristen Inagaki and co-authors write in the paper:

“At the level of the brain, only support giving was associated with beneficial outcomes.

[this may improve health by] reducing activity in stress-and threat-related regions during stressful experiences.”

It seems that giving support to others may be at least as beneficial as receiving it.

The authors conclude:

“These results add to an emerging literature suggesting that support giving is an overlooked contributor to how social support can benefit health.


Gaining a full understanding of how and why social ties are so important to well-being requires the consideration of both the support that is received and given.”

The study was published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine (Inagaki et al., 2016).

About the author

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:

Dr Dean’s bio, Twitter, Facebook and how to contact him.

Image credit: Pauline Kim Joo