The Influence of Communication on Physiology and Health

by James M. Honeycutt (Volume editor) Chris R. Sawyer (Volume editor) Shaughan Keaton (Volume editor)
©2014 Textbook XIV, 249 Pages
Series: Health Communication, Volume 7


There is a significant amount of research that substantiates the connection between social support/relationships and the development, onset, and/or recovery of several physical diseases/illnesses. Research has shown, for example, that an unhappy marriage can increase the likelihood of becoming ill by 35% while stressful communication can lead to an increase in cardiovascular reactivity which in turn increases the risk of coronary heart disease and premature mortality.
This volume provides a comprehensive overview of the influences of communication on physiology and physical health status occurring in a variety of contexts, from families, interpersonal relationships, and public speaking to sport fandom, affection, fear, and the escalation of conflict. It offers a broad and up-to-date review of the relevant literature in this area of study.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface by Gary Kreps
  • Introduction by James M. Honeycutt
  • Wet and Dry Measures of Physiology
  • Overview of the Volume
  • Chapter Format
  • References
  • Section 1: Cardiovascular Studies
  • Chapter 1: Effects of Positive Family Conflict-Renewal Stories on Heart Rate
  • The Impact of Storytelling and Conflict within Family Relationships
  • Storytelling, Uncertainty Reduction, and Physiological Soothing
  • Relational Conflict and Physiological Arousal
  • Gender Differences in Relational Physiological Arousal
  • Current Study
  • Findings
  • Applications to Mental and Physical Health Status
  • Implications and Future Research
  • Conclusion
  • Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Chapter 2: Cardiovascular Reactivity in Social Interaction: Predictors and Consequences of Physiological Changes While Speaking in Everyday Life
  • Literature Review and Background Studies
  • Communication Traits, Cardiovascular Reactivity, and Health
  • Current Study
  • Findings
  • Applications to Mental and Physical Health
  • Future Research
  • Conclusion
  • Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Chapter 3: Profiles of Response Stereotypy and Specificity for Public Speaking State Anxiety
  • Introduction
  • Psychophysiological Studies of Speaker Anxiety in Communication
  • Psychophysiological Profiles of Speaker Anxiety: Response Stereotypy versus Specificity
  • Constructing a Profile of Speech Anxiety Responses
  • Current Study
  • Instruments
  • Results
  • Applications to Mental and Physical Health
  • Future Research
  • Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 4: Effects of Rumination and Observing Marital Conflict on Observers’ Heart Rates as They Advise and Predict the Use of Conflict Tactics
  • Background Studies
  • Current Study
  • Applications to Mental and Physical Health
  • Future Research
  • Conclusion
  • Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Chapter 5: The Effects of Team Identity Formation and Sport Team Identification on Mental Health, Cognition, Behavior, and Physiology
  • Sport Team Identification
  • Team Identity Formation, Self-Categorization, and Strength of Identification
  • Effects of Team Identity Formation and Sport Team Identification
  • Current Study
  • Applications to Mental Health Status
  • Summary
  • Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Section 2: Immunological and Hematological Studies
  • Chapter 6: Affectionate Communication Is Associated with Markers of Immune and Cardiovascular System Competence
  • Literature Review and Background Studies
  • Physical Indicators of Stress
  • Predictions
  • Current Study
  • Applications to Physical Health
  • Future Research
  • Conclusion
  • Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Chapter 7: Interparental Conflict and Parents’ Inappropriate Disclosures:Relations to Parents’ and Children’s Salivary α-Amylase and Cortisol
  • Interparental Conflict and Inappropriate Disclosures in Families
  • Children’s Reactions to Interparental Conflict and Inappropriate Disclosures
  • Parents’ Reactions to Their Own Disclosures
  • Current Study
  • Applications to Mental and Physical Health Status
  • Children’s Reactions to Their Parents’ Disclosures and Conflict
  • Parents’ Reactions to Their Own Disclosures and Strained Parental Relationship
  • Implications, Future Research, and Limitations
  • Conclusion
  • Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Chapter 8: Types of Stress and Their Effects on Mental Health, Verbal Aggression, and Assault
  • Literature Review and Background Studies
  • The Neurochemical Substrate for Depression, Anxiety, and Aggression
  • Current Studies
  • Conclusion
  • Future Research
  • Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Section 3: Neurological Studies
  • Chapter 9: Asymmetry in the Brain: Communication, Personality, and Health
  • Split-Brain Studies
  • Modern Imaging Techniques
  • The Asymmetric Lens
  • Health-Related Applications
  • Brain Lateralization, Asymmetry, and Communication
  • Current Studies
  • Apprehension, Aggression, and Affection
  • The Intersection of Asymmetry in Personality, Health, and Communication
  • Conclusion
  • Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Chapter 10: The Neurophysiology of Craving and Drug-Related Cues: Evidence from Event-Related Potentials
  • Motivational System-Based Theories of Craving
  • Evidence SupportingActivation of Affective and Defensive Systemsin Craving
  • Imaging the Neuroelectrophysiology of Craving
  • The Current Study: ERP Investigation of Appetitive and Defensive Motivational System Activation in Cue-Induced Tobacco Cravings
  • Application to Addiction and Mental Health Research
  • Conclusion
  • Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Chapter 11: Rethinking the Emotional Brain
  • Why Do We Need to Rethink the Relation of Emotion to Survival?
  • Survival Circuits
  • Nature and Nurture in Survival Circuits
  • Defense as an Example
  • Circuit Functions versus Behavioral Responses
  • Reinforcement and Survival Circuits
  • Survival Circuits and Arousal
  • Transcending Neuroanatomical Homology: Survival throughout the Animal World
  • Survival Circuits and Human Feelings: What Is an Emotional State?
  • Conclusion
  • Discussion Questions
  • Key Terms
  • References
  • Author Biographies
  • Chapter 1 (Honeycutt, Bannon, & Hatcher)
  • Chapter 2 (Tardy)
  • Chapter 3 (Sawyer & Behnke)
  • Chapter 4 (Honeycutt, Keaton, Hatcher, & Hample)
  • Chapter 5 (Keaton & Honeycutt)
  • Chapter 6 (Floyd, Pauley, Hesse, Veksler, Eden, & Mikkelson)
  • Chapter 7 (Denes, Afifi, Granger, Joseph, & Aldeis)
  • Chapter 8 (Hamilton & Veksler)
  • Chapter 9 (Heisel)
  • Chapter 10 (Faulkner, Hellemans, Abizaid, & Angiulli)
  • Chapter 11 (LeDoux)
  • Index
  • By Subject
  • By Author
  • Series Index

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We wish to acknowledge students in our classes, including those who have had assignments collecting pulse and blood pressure from family members undergoing meta-emotion and oral history interviews. In these assignments, they also discussed pleasing and displeasing topics in their relationships. We thank Laura Hatcher, who has co-taught classes with the senior co-editor, in which diffuse physiological arousal in personal relationships was discussed. Her research on pheromones, fear, and cardiovascular reactivity is exciting. We acknowledge all of our research participants in the Matchbox Interaction Lab, including participants from various universities represented in this exciting volume.

We also wish to thank the contributors to this volume for their vibrant research, including Kory Floyd and Tamara Afifi for their important distinctions between wet and dry measures of physiology discussed in the introduction. Further, our work would be impossible without the pioneering achievements of early psychophysiologists in our field, such as Ralph R. Behnke, whose work appears posthumously in this volume. Without his contributions and the achievements of those who followed him, scholars in our field would likely have little appreciation for the physiology of human communication.

Chapter 11, Rethinking the Emotional Brain, by Joseph LeDoux, has been revised and reprinted with permission of Elsevier. All rights reserved.

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Gary L. Kreps, Ph.D., George Mason University

It has often been asserted by both scholars and health practitioners that communication is an integral process in the delivery of care and the promotion of health. However, up until now, there has been only limited and fragmented presentations of empirical evidence that indelibly linked communication processes to specific and critical health outcomes. “The Influence of Communication on Physiology and Health” fills this gap in the health literature by contributing to validation of profound physiological influences of human communication on key physical health outcomes in three major areas:

 The influences of human communication on functioning of the heart (cardiovascular studies);

 The influences of human communication on functioning of the immune system and blood flow (immunological and hematological studies);

 The influences of human communication on functioning of the brain and the nervous system (neurological studies).

The evidence provided in all three of these areas of the book is compelling and clearly illustrates the powerful influences of human communication on critically important health outcomes.

This important book not only makes significant contributions to the literature by clearly demonstrating connections between communication and physiological processes, but it also suggests the value of strategic communication intervention to enhance delivery of health care and promotion of health. I was particularly moved by the powerful chapters in the book concerning the influences of affection and stress on health outcomes. The evidence provided in these chapters powerfully contribute toward the validation of effective uses of social support communication and stress ← xiii | xiv → reduction interaction activities as crucially important health promotion intervention strategies. There are numerous additional powerful implications from the chapters in this book for future health communication research, risk prevention strategies, and health promotion practices. I encourage readers to carefully examine the strong evidence provided in this volume and to identify relevant lessons learned for applying communication to enhance health promotion.

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James M. Honeycutt

The purpose of this book is to examine physiological studies of communication and effects on physical and mental health. We examine physiological measures in a variety of contexts, including families, interpersonal relationships, public speaking, sport fandom, fear, stress, neurology, and escalation of conflict. Early research has revealed that unhappy marriages can increase the likelihood that individuals become ill by 35% and shorten life span by an average of four years (Gottman & Silver, 1999).

There is a significant amount of research that substantiates the connection between social support/relationships (and the quality of social support/relationships) and development, onset, and/or recovery of several physical diseases/illnesses. For example, lack of effective social support and interpersonal relationships has been linked with conditions such as heart disease (Glynn, Christenfeld, & Gerin, 1999; Steptoe, Lundwall, & Cropley, 2000), different forms of cancer (Goodwin, Hunt, & Samet, 1987), epilepsy (Langfitt, Wood, Brand, & Erba, 1999),inflammatory bowel disease (Vaughn, Leff, & Sarner, 1999), and arthritis (Prigerson, Maciejewski, & Rosenheck, 1999). Stressful marital interactions lead to an increase in cardiovascular reactivity, which in turn increases the risk of coronary heart disease and premature mortality (Smith, Glazer, Ruiz, & Gallo, 2004).

Historically, few researchers employ physiological measures in their studies of communication (Beatty, McCroskey, & Floyd, 2009). This scarcity includes health communication, where perceptions and observations of physical/patient interaction skills are often measured. However, the dearth of physiology studies in the communication field is often due to lack of training and resources than to lack of interest. More importantly, it seems possible that health communication scholars have underestimated contributions that ← 1 | 2 → physiological measures can make to their overall understanding of health outcomes. Physiological measures are not as inclined to response biases where subjects may lie about survey items due to social desirability. Because most physiological measures are not under conscious control—with the exception of yoga or transcendental meditation—physiological data offer a means of circumventing self-presentation biases so endemic to self-report and observational studies of interaction.

Additionally, two of this volume’s contributors, Kory Floyd and Tamara Afifi (2011) discuss three fallacies that have impeded the examination of communication and physiology:deterministic, immutability, and naturalistic fallacies. The deterministic fallacy surmises the old nature-nurture, causal argument in which biology determines behavior rather than social learning (Bandura, 1978), which assumes that behavior can be modified through modeling and reinforcement. The immutability fallacy suggests that due to genetics, we cannot control or change our behavioral responses (Floyd & Afifi, 2011) even though argumentativeness can be controlled to a small degree (e.g., anger management classes, fines, suspensions, penalties) despite any genetic tendency. Finally, the naturalistic fallacy argues that calling behavior natural is equivalent to saying that it is acceptable or moral. Floyd and Afifi (2011) review the position of Thornhill and Palmer (2000) who argued that rape does not express power, but is an evolutionary adaptation designed to increase male reproduction. Critics argue that these researchers must believe that rape is excusable even though they argued the opposite claim. They simply were arguing that as long as social scientists ignored sexual libido, effects to reduce instances of rape were destined to fail.

Wet and Dry Measures of Physiology

We endorse the classification of physiological measures by Floyd and Afifi (2011) based on distinctions between “wet” and “dry” physiology. As we preview each chapter in this volume, we classify it as reflecting wet, dry, or mixed (in which both types of measures are used).

Wet measures are based on immunology, hematology, and endocrinology (Floyd & Roberts, 2009). Typical wet measures are blood and saliva samples. These measures are intrusive and require the collection of body fluids. ← 2 | 3 → Immunology examines how stress, conflict, and chronic, negative emotional states (e.g., depression) suppress the immune system. Hematology examines blood chemistry. For example, various forms of managing conflict may have differential effects on blood glucose. The senior editor of this volume is well aware of hematological chemistry from anecdotal, personal experience and has been a thin, insulin-dependent diabetic for over 40 years. Blood glucose levels rise and fall as a function of not only insulin intake, but are also affected by stress, diet, metacognition (Honeycutt, 2010), conflict, diet, and temperature. Finally, endocrinology involves the study of hormones, including cortisol, testosterone, oxytocin, and serotonin. For example, oxytocin has been popularly labeled as the “love hormone.” Recent studies have begun to investigate oxytocin's role in various behaviors, including orgasm, social recognition, pair bonding, anxiety, and maternal behaviors (Lee, Macbeth, Pagani, & Young, 2009). There is additional evidence that oxytocin promotes ethnocentric behavior, incorporating the trust and empathy of in-groups with their suspicion and rejection of outsiders (DeDreu, Greer, Van Kleff, Shalvi, & Handgraaf, 2011). Conversely, a lack of a serotonin has been speculated to be associated with a tendency to be depressed, increased aggression, and physically abusing others (Kragowski, 2003).

Dry measures are less invasive. Typical dry measures include blood pressure, finger pulse, heart rate (measured using ear sensors by the Heart-Math EmWave company or Polar elastic chest belts), skin conductance (also referred to electro-dermal responses),and galvanic skin responses (measured using sensors placed on the hand to measure sweat gland activity, which is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, thereby reflecting arousal). Additionally, skin temperature—also referred to as thermal feedback—is measured using temperature sensors taped to the finger. Finally, electroencephalography (EEG) is the recording of electrical activity along the scalp. EEG measures voltage fluctuations resulting from ionic current flows within the neurons of the brain (see Chapter 9).

Dry measures focus on neural, muscular, and nervous system functions (Floyd & Afifi, 2011). Brain imaging, magnetic resonance imaging, and fMRI’s are less intrusive. Indeed, the brain is portrayed in graphical images in which certain areas of the brain light up when participants are asked to ← 3 | 4 → think about various positive or negative stimuli. For example, Table 1 highlights the distribution of wet, dry, and mixed combinations of physiological measures across the chapters of this volume. Approximately, 55% of the chapters analyze dry physiological measures focusing on cardiovascular variables of heart rate and blood pressure. The remaining percentages are evenly divided between wet and mixed measures. Needless to say, it is more expensive for researchers to analyze wet measures due to the costs of using trained medical personnel to draw blood or storing cortisol samples in freezers at certified, medical facilities.

Table 1: Wet, dry, and mixed physiological measures as they pertain to chapters

Legend: HR = heart rate; BP = blood pressure; EEG = electroencephalogram; sAA = salivary α-amylase

Because a majority of the chapters in this book analyze cardiovascular variables in terms of heart rate, it is important to highlight a few considerations ← 4 | 5 → for accurate reporting of these data. The Society for Psychophysiological Research has a classic guideline of considerations and recommendation (Jennings, Berg, Hutcheson, Porges, & Turpin, 1981). In terms of statistical sampling and probability theory, heart rate measured in beats per second and interbeat intervals are the only measures that correctly estimate the mean; there is an assumption in most studies that heart rate is considered an event that is sampled randomly and that each estimate has an equal probability of occurrence (also see Chapter 4; Graham, 1978). If, however, the heart rate estimates are viewed as time series, time is randomly distributed rather than restricted to the cardiac event. Indeed, Chapters 4 and 5 treat heart rate as a time series using latent growth curve modeling. Powerful time series measures that can account for autocorrelation (e.g., repeated measures of a variable that are assumed to correlate as functions of the distance between time lags; the heart rate measured at time x is more correlated with the preceding measure at x - 1 time, less correlated at x - 2, and so on as it decreases across time lags) are available to describe temporal regularity of heart rate (e.g., latent growth curve modeling or spectral analysis).

Overview of the Volume

Cardiovascular studies. This volume contains three sections. As noted in Table 1, part one contains cardiovascular studies. The first chapter by the senior co-editor, along with Brandon Bannon and Laura Hatcher, reports on the association between heart rate and telling positive family stories. The second chapter examines heart rate in terms of anxiety in natural conversations and in public speaking. As Charles Tardy notes, speaking produces significant changes throughout our bodies, which affects cells, muscles, and all of our physiological systems. Additionally, individuals are often unaware of what is happening in their bodies when they flirt, argue, compliment, and listen to others, even though these physiological changes can affect mortality. The third chapter, written by the second co-editor (Chris R. Sawyer), is in tribute to the late Ralph Behnke of Texas Christian University, who researched heart rate and public anxiety for almost four decades. One of the speaking points of Ralph is that while psychological state anxiety is greatest when anticipating a speech, speaker heart rate peaks during the first minute ← 5 | 6 → of performance, or what he called the moment-of-truth. These differences are largely explained by imagined interactions of speakers prior to giving a presentation. Though no single coping technique has proven superior, a combination of several tactics is usually effective, which is briefly mentioned in the chapter.

The fourth chapter by the senior co-editor (James M. Honeycutt), third co-editor (Shaughan A. Keaton),Laura Hatcher, and Dale Hample examines heart rate as viewers watch a husband and wife-initiated conflict that gradually increases in intensity. Viewers were asked to predict what would happen after the vignette, as well as what they would advise and if the arguing couple would ruminate about what was said in terms of retroactive imagined interactions. The results are quite provocative.


XIV, 249
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (April)
economy psychical health work life balance social support development disease
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. XIV, 249 pp., num. fig. and tables

Biographical notes

James M. Honeycutt (Volume editor) Chris R. Sawyer (Volume editor) Shaughan Keaton (Volume editor)

James M. Honeycutt (PhD, University of Illinois) is Distinguished Professor of Communication Studies at Louisiana State University. Chris R. Sawyer (PhD, University of North Texas) is Professor of Communication at Texas Christian University. Shaughan A. Keaton (PhD, Louisiana State University) is Assistant Professor of Communication at Young Harris College.


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