Oxytocin is a hormone released during labour and lactation, and and is thought to be important in other maternal behaviours and in pair bonding; it is sometimes known as the �love hormone�.� When it is triggered, we feel a deep sense of comfort and well-being.

Leslie SeltzerLeslie Seltzer is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Child Emotion Lab.� Working with colleagues Toni E. Ziegler and Seth D. Pollak, she exposed sixty one 7 to 13 year-old girls to stressful situations, like maths problems or public speaking.� The team knew that mum�s presence will calm an infant in rodents, but only when there is direct physical touch.� They hypothesised that the importance of language� in humans may mean that mother�s voice� would also have a calming effect.

The experiment

They randomly split the girls into three groups, who had:

  1. complete contact with mum (19 girls)
  2. a phone call with mum, giving speech-only contact (20 girls)
  3. no-contact with mum � just a neutral movie (22 girls)

The results

Researchers found, unsurprisingly, that children who were completely comforted by mum (including physical, vocal and non-verbal contact) showed the highest levels of oxytocin increase and the fasted drop in cortisol levels (which measure stress arousal).

However, the children who could only talk with mum showed a similar set of hormonal changes. The researchers suggest that talking is just as important as touch to the hormonal component of social bonding.� All of which means that, when you are stressed, just pick up the phone, and call mum.

The paper

Social vocalizations can release oxytocin in humans, by Leslie J. Seltzer (Departments of Psychology, Anthropology, and Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison), Toni E. Ziegler (Wisconsin National Primate Research Center), and Seth D. Pollak (Departments of Psychology, Anthropology, and Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Brilliant Stress Management is out now

Brilliant Stress Management, by Mike Clayton

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