Funded Grants

Does Social Support Buffer Fatigue? A Social-Developmental Approach

This project will investigate how early life social adversity influences the buffering effects of perceived social support on fatigue. Feelings of physical fatigue are common across many everyday contexts, and can have significant consequences for health, wellbeing and performance. In research on the neurobiology, physiology, and psychology of physical activity, fatigue is increasingly studied as something that originates not just in peripheral bodily systems, but as a brain-derived emotion that dynamically and adaptively regulates behaviour. As such, fatigue in physical activity is not just an event of the embodied brain, but also of the environment that integrates cognition and emotion, top-down predictions and bottom-up sensory information, and internal and external worlds. As a focus of study, fatigue therefore has enormous potential to advance our contemporary understanding of human cognition and behaviour in context.

Like other subjectively experienced, adaptive homeostatic systems (e.g., pain), fatigue is subject to many powerful environmental influences, including social cues of safety and support. Although positive effects of perceived social support on fatigue have been reported, existing studies in constrained laboratory conditions and with limited sample diversity risk overgeneralising the results.

Understanding fatigue as a developmental process between brain, body, social, physical and cultural environment, the proposed research will examine how the buffering effects of social support on fatigue systematically vary according to individuals’ experiences of early and later life social adversity or advantage, and according to individuals’ expectations about social context effects on fatigue. Through a series of field experimental studies in real world physical activity settings, we will quantify effects of early life history, social context and prior expectations on physiological, behavioural and psychological markers of fatigue.

The research will generate new data and lines of enquiry on fatigue processing with relevance to exercise, occupational and health contexts. It will situate the interdisciplinary study of fatigue, and dynamic homeostatic regulation more generally, within a novel interdisciplinary synthesis of social, evolutionary and developmental factors, providing a foundation for future research on this complex and important phenomenon.