Mom's Voice Is as Comforting as a Hug, Study Shows
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison found that hearing your mother's voice can release similar levels of the comforting hormone oxytocin as a big ol' mama hug.
As diabolical at it sounds, researchers made 61 girls -- ages 7 to 12 -- solve complex speech and math problems in front of strangers. This made their hearts race and shot up the level of the stress hormone cortisol in their bodies.
The Daily Mirror in London reports the girls were then broken into three groups. One got comforting hugs from their mothers, another talked with their mothers on the phone, and a third group watched the movie "March of the Penguins," which researchers deemed "emotionally neutral."
According to the Daily Mirror, oxytocin rose in the first two groups at roughly equal levels. As oxytocin levels increased (as revealed in blood and urine samples), cortisol decreased.
"The children who got to interact with their mothers had virtually the same hormonal response, whether they interacted in person or over the phone," Dr. Leslie Seltzer, the lead researcher, tells the Daily Mirror.
"It was understood that oxytocin release in the context of social bonding usually required physical contact," she adds. "But it's clear from these results that a mother's voice can have the same effect as a hug, even if they're not standing there."
And the effects lasted.
"It stays well beyond the stressful task," Seth Pollak, from the university's child emotion laboratory, tells the Daily Mirror. "By the time the children go home they're still enjoying the benefits of this relief and their cortisol levels are still low. That a simple telephone call could have this physiological effect on oxytocin is really exciting."
Girls were studied because oxytocin responses are stronger in females. In adult women, the hormone helps prepare them for labor, birth and breastfeeding.
Seltzer and her fellow researchers are investigating whether other forms of communication -- such as text messaging -- increase oxytocin levels. They also hope to expand their research to animals.
"Lots of very social species vocalize," Seltzer tells the paper. "On the one hand, we're curious to see if this effect is unique to humans. On the other, we're hoping researchers who study vocal communication will consider looking at oxytocin release in other animals and applying it to broader questions of social behavior and evolutionary biology."
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