Affectionate communication comprises the verbal and nonverbal behaviors people use to express messages of love, appreciation, fondness, and commitment to others in close relationships. Like all interpersonal behaviors, affectionate communication has biological and physiological antecedents, consequences, and correlates, many of which have implications for physical health and wellness. Investigating these factors within a biological framework allows for the adjudication of influences beyond those attributable to the environment. In particular, there are observable genetic and neurological differences between individuals with a highly affectionate disposition and those less prone to communicating affection, suggesting that variance in the tendency to engage in affectionate behavior is not entirely the result of environmental influences such as enculturation, parenting, and media exposure. In addition, the expression of affection is associated with markers of immune system competence and appears to help the body to relax and remain calm. The biological effects of affectionate communication are perhaps most pronounced in situations involving either acute or chronic stress. Specifically, highly affectionate individuals are less likely than others to overreact physiologically to stress-inducing events. Whatever stress reaction they do mount is better regulated than among their less affectionate counterparts. Moreover, highly affectionate individuals—or simply those who receive expressions of affection prior to or immediately following a stressful situation—exhibit faster physiological recovery from their elevated stress. Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, being deprived of adequate affectionate communication is predictive of multiple physical and psychological detriments, including elevated stress and exacerbated depression, social and relational problems, insecure attachment, susceptibility to diagnosed anxiety and mood disorders, susceptibility to diagnosed secondary immune disorders, chronic pain, and sleep disturbances.
Kory Floyd and Colter D. Ray
Kory Floyd, Corey A. Pavlich, and Dana R. Dinsmore
Research has shown that the expression of affection and other forms of prosocial communication between two or more people promotes wellness and has the potential to increase life expectancy. The human body contains multiple physiological subsystems that all contribute to the overall health and well-being of an individual; the simple act of engaging in prosocial communication has been shown to positively influence one’s health and well-being. The specific benefits of engaging in prosocial communication are not limited to one specific physiological subsystem; it is the pervasiveness of this benefit that is so important. The benefits of prosocial communication range from building the body’s defense systems to increasing the effectiveness of recovery; in essence, prosocial communication increases the body’s overall integrity and rejuvenating power. These benefits have been observed for a variety of prosocial behaviors, including the expression of affection, touch, social support and cohesion, and social influence. The health benefits of prosocial communication point to the importance of considering prosocial communication when designing health and risk messages.
Kory Floyd and Benjamin E. Custer
Affectionate communication constitutes verbal behaviors (e.g., saying “I love you”), nonverbal gestures (e.g., hugging, handholding), and socially supportive behaviors (e.g., helping with a project) that humans employ to develop and maintain close relationships with others. In addition to its relational benefits, affectionate communication contributes to health and wellness for both senders and receivers. Affection exchange theory (AET) addresses the questions of why humans engage in affectionate communication and why diverse benefits are associated with such behaviors. A robust empirical literature supports AET’s contention that both expressing and receiving affectionate behavior are associated with physical and mental health benefits. Despite these contributions, however, some compelling questions about affectionate communication remain to be addressed, and AET can provide a useful framework for doing so.