Mum's phone call as comforting as a hug during stressful times

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Washington, May 12 (ANI): A simple phone call from your mum or a warm hug has often brightened your gloomy moments, and now this has been scientifically proven by a new American research.

The findings of the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have appeared in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Biological anthropologist Leslie Seltzer tested a group of seven- to 12-year-old girls with an impromptu speech and series of math problems in front of a panel of strangers, sending their hearts racing and levels of cortisol - a hormone associated with stress - soaring.

Seth Pollak, psychology professor and director of UW-Madison's Child Emotion Lab, said: "Facing a challenge like that, being evaluated, raises stress levels for a lot of people."

Once stressed, one-third of the girls were comforted in person by their mothers - specifically with hugs, an arm around the shoulders and the like.

One-third were left watch an emotion-neutral 75-minute video. The rest were handed a telephone. It was mom on the line, and the effect was dramatic.

Seltzer said: "The children who got to interact with their mothers had virtually the same hormonal response, whether they interacted in person or over the phone."

The girls' levels of oxytocin, often called the "love hormone" and strongly associated with emotional bonding, rose significantly and the stress-marking cortisol washed away.

Seltzer said: "It was understood that oxytocin release in the context of social bonding usually required physical contact.

"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 reprieve from stress or anxiety is a lasting one.

Pollak said: "It stays well beyond that stressful task.

"By the time the children go home, they're still enjoying the benefits of this relief and their cortisol levels are still low."

The findings square with a "tend and befriend" theory explaining how stress regulation may differ between males and females.

Confronted with a threat, males may be more likely to choose between fight and flight.

A female with offspring in tow or slowed by pregnancy, however, may have to make different choices.

Seltzer said: "You might not be able to run with a child or defend yourself without endangering both of you."

Instead, Seltzer explained, it might make more sense for a female to create or use a social bond to deal with a stressor - either through touch or soothing vocal communication.

Seltzer said: "Apparently this hormone, oxytocin, reduces stress in females after both types of contact, and in doing so may strengthen bonds between individuals."

Pollak said: "For years I've seen students leaving exams and the first thing they do is pull out their cell phone and make a call.

"I used to think, 'How could those over-attentive, helicopter parents encourage that?' But now? Maybe it's a quick and dirty way to feel better. It's not pop psychology or psychobabble."

He added: "It's hard to get cortisol up. It's hard to get oxytocin up.

"That a simple telephone call could have this physiological effect on oxytocin is really exciting." (ANI)

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