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A Phone Call May Be As Effective As a Hug

A Phone Call May Be As Effective As a HugAt least when it comes to your body’s physiological responses. If you’re a young girl.

So says a new study that studied young girls’ release of the stress hormone cortisol as well as their levels of the hormone oxytocin — thought to be important in social bonding — after a stressful public presentation. One group of girls talked to their mom on the telephone, another talked to them in person and received a hug, and a third group watched a neutral movie.

The two groups who received mom-contact — whether it was by telephone or in-person — both had much lower levels of the stress hormone than the group that had no mom contact. Both groups also had significantly more of the bonding hormone, oxytocin.

The upshot? A simple phone call to mom — if you’re a young girl ages 7 to 12 years old at least — might help reduce your stress levels and make you feel better.

The most important finding is not that a phone call to mom helps (most people would’ve suspected as much, if you have a positive relationship with your mom). It’s that a phone call may be just as effective as a physical hug or other physical contact. This is the new finding that’s of significance in this research and it will be interesting to see how far and whether such a finding translates into other forms of technology — such as texting or messages on a social network like Facebook or Twitter.

“That a simple telephone call could have this physiological effect on oxytocin is really exciting,” noted Seth Pollak, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Child Emotion Lab.

“For years I’ve seen students leaving exams and the first thing they do is pull out their cell phone and make a call,” Pollak said. “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.”

“It was understood that oxytocin release in the context of social bonding usually required physical contact,” Leslie Seltzer, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Child Emotion Lab and lead author on the study.

“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.”

The challenge with this finding is that it was done with young girls, ages 7 to 12 years old. Who knows if the findings translate to adults. Further research will need to be conducted to determine how robust these findings may be.


Seltzer, L.J., Ziegler, T.E., & Pollak, S.D. (2010). Social vocalizations can release oxytocin in humans. Proceedings of the Royal Society. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0567

A Phone Call May Be As Effective As a Hug

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). A Phone Call May Be As Effective As a Hug. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 12 May 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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