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January 2011



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By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on May 14, 2010

A new study confirms an observation that has been noted for millennia – that a simple conversation with mother will calm the nerves of preteen girls.

Researchers discovered the phone call triggers the release of a powerful stress-quelling hormone.

Leslie Seltzer, a University of Wisconsin-Madison biological anthropologist, 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.

“Facing a challenge like that, being evaluated, raises stress levels for a lot of people,” says Seth Pollak, psychology professor and director of UW-Madison’s Child Emotion Lab.

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

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

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.

“It was understood that oxytocin release in the context of social bonding usually required physical contact,” Seltzer says. “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.

“It stays well beyond that stressful task,” Pollak says. “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 – which were published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B – 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.

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

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.

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

Read in Full:  http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/05/14/mothers-voice-calms-stress/13825.html

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