How Do Romantic Relationships Get Under The Skin? Perceived Partner Responsiveness Predicts Cortisol Profiles 10 Years Later
If someone asked me to pick the most influential finding that has come out of relationship science to date, I’d say it’s this: relationships matter for health. In 1988, House and colleagues published their classic research paper showing that social isolation is a powerful predictor of premature death.1 Since then, dozens of studies have tested and consistently replicated this link. Indeed, a recent meta-analysis of 148 studies (over 300,000 participants!) showed that people with stronger social relationships are about 50% more likely to survive over a 7.5 year period compared to those with weak social ties.2 This is a huge effect: it suggests that social isolation is more dangerous than a number of well-established risk factors of mortality, such as obesity and physical inactivity.
In response to these findings, many policy-makers, health practitioners, and members of the general public have started viewing social relationships not just as a nice-to-have, but as a fundamental human need. Humans simply must have close relationships in order to survive and thrive (for a more theoretical discussion about the human need for relationships, see this post). However, the issue of how relationships affect health is not as well-understood. What aspects of social relationships are particularly important (i.e., specificity), and in what way do social relationships influence the body (i.e., mechanism)? These sorts of questions about specificity and mechanism are what many researchers in the field are now grappling with.