Journal of Undergraduate Research


social integration, emotional regulation, stressors, neurobiological


Family, Home, and Social Sciences




Midlife adults face a wide variety of physiological, emotional, and cognitive stressors that place them at risk for impaired physical health and longevity. Social integration—which includes high levels of social engagement as well as maintaining a diverse network of social roles—has been shown to protect against the negative effects of these stressors and decrease mortality rates (Holt-Lunstad, 2010). Research has suggested that “social buffering” provides protection from the physiological effects of stress (Cohen, 1985). In fact, Sheldon Cohen hypothesized a “social buffering” pathway, which suggests that social integration effects psychological and physiological exposure to and reaction to stress (Cohen & Wills, 1985). In essence, those who are socially integrated are hypothesized to show a better emotional tone and reduced stress reactivity. To better understand the possible neurobiological correlates of social buffering, we examined if measures of social integration predicted neural indications of emotional processing and regulatory reactions. The prefrontal cortex, specifically the anterior cingulate (ACC) is involved in regulation and inhibition (Oschner & Gross, 2007). Downstream paralimbic areas, specifically the amygdala, are associated with stress and emotional reactivity (Murphy, Nimmo-Smith & Lawrence, 2003). Therefore, we predicted that adults with higher levels of social integration will show less activation in the amygdala and greater activation in the ACC when presented with emotional regulation and stress inducing tasks.

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