A common theme from many childhoods, a hug from one’s mother following a stressful event is typically able to help relieve anxiety and other negative feelings, causing a child to experience a greater state of relaxation. The effect has been well-documented by researchers, but had, until now, been believed to be limited to the physical presence and touch of the mother. In a study performed at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, researchers recently found that this same effect can be achieved simply by talking to one’s mother on the phone.
The researchers worked with a group of seven to twelve year old girls who were asked to make an impromptu speech and complete a series of math problems in front of a group of strangers, tasks which were considered to be highly stressful and which succeeded in causing stress among the girls, determined by a faster heart rate and increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Following these tasks, girls were either met by their mothers and given a hug, shown a video described as being emotionally neutral, or talked to their mothers over the phone. The girls who had contact with their mothers showed the same levels of recovery from stress whether contact was made in person or via the telephone, a finding that suggests no physical interaction is necessary for the soothing effect of a mother’s presence. The release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with love, was found to be comparable in the girls from those groups that received maternal contact.
Significantly changing established ideas about the effects of parental interaction, the study may help researchers better understand the nature of family relationships and how various events and behaviors can have an impact upon the experience of childhood.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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