Communicated perspective-taking intervention: a social pathway to stress management
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Stress is a ubiquitous phenomenon, but left unaddressed can become a health risk. There is an opportunity for interpersonal communication researchers to develop interventions to help individuals manage stress and thus improve their health. The present dissertation tests the effects of a communicated perspective-taking (CPT) intervention on relational, mental, and physical health. CPT is the process of verbally and nonverbally expressing that one is "walking in another person's shoes." The experimental design employed in the current study randomly assigned participants to either tell or listen to a story about a difficult experience. The listener was randomly presented with instructions to display either a high or a low level of CPT. Results of the study provided support for the effectiveness of the intervention to change the presence of CPT in the interaction. Additional support was demonstrated for the relationship between CPT and psychological and social health. Finally, the present study provides initial evidence for a positive relationship between CPT and physical health, as measured by heart rate and heart rate variability. Specifically, listeners in the high-CPT condition had a significant sympathetic response at the start of the interaction and a significant parasympathetic response during the recovery period, compared to the low-CPT condition. First, engaging in an initial interaction with a person sharing a recent stressful event is stressful for a listener. Second, a listener who enacts a high level of CPT will have a significant stress recovery from the interaction, compared to listeners who enact a low level of CPT. This study advances CPT theorizing by being the first known study to identify a link with physical health. Furthermore, the evidence presents a CPT intervention design that can cause significant improvements in a person's relational, mental, and physical health. In short, a listener who expresses messages that indicate to a recipient that his/her perspective is actively being attended to and confirmed will experience positive health outcomes. Theoretical implications for these findings lie in their potential to advance communicated sensemaking theorizing into physical health outcomes. Practical implications exist in the potential for creating and implementing CPT interventions designed to improve individuals' and couples' relational, mental, and physical health.