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According to social baseline theory (Beckes & Coan, 2011), load sharing is a feature of close relationships whereby the burden of emotional distress is distributed across relationship partners. Load sharing varies by physical closeness and relationship quality. We investigated the effect of load sharing on emotional arousal via galvanic skin response, an indicator of sympathetic nervous system arousal, during a social stressor. Social stress was elicited in 66 adolescent girls (Mage = 15 years) using a spontaneous public-speaking task. Mother−daughter dyads reported their relationship quality, and physical closeness was manipulated by having mothers either touch or not touch their daughter’s hand during the performance. We found evidence of load sharing among dyads who held hands, independent of relationship quality. However, without physical contact, load sharing was only evident among dyads with higher relationship quality. Thus, high relationship quality buffers against threat in a similar way to the physical comfort of a loved one.

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Journal Article

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