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Marital Bliss Calms Stress

The health value of human touch and social relationships has been romanticized for centuries. New research finds that women under stress who hold their husbands’ hands show signs of immediate relief, which can clearly be seen on their brain scans.

A MRI provided evidence that hand-holding with a spouse can decrease the brain’s response to threat and dampen the emotional component of the brain’s pain processing circuits. Women who rated their marriage as very satisfying displayed the greatest benefit.

“This is the first study of the neurological reactions to human touch in a threatening situation, and the first study to measure how the brain facilitates the health-enhancing properties of close social relationships,” says Dr. James A. Coan, a University of Virginia neuroscientist and author of the study.

The research is published in the December 2006 issue of the journal Psychological Science.

The study involved several couples who rated themselves as highly satisfied with their marriages. Coan and colleagues designed a functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) study in which 16 married women were subjected to the threat of a very mild electric shock while they by turns held their husband’s hand, the hand of a stranger (male) or no hand at all.

The MRI was able to show how these women’s brains responded to this handholding while in a threatening situation.

The results showed a large decrease in the brain response to threat as a function of spouse handholding, and a limited decrease in this response as a function of stranger handholding.

Moreover, spouse handholding effects varied as a function of marital quality, with women in the very highest quality marriages benefiting from a very powerful decrease in threat-related brain activity, including a strong decrease in the emotional (affective) component of the brain’s pain processing circuits.

Source: Blackwell Publishing

Marital Bliss Calms Stress

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Marital Bliss Calms Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 22, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2006/12/20/marital-bliss-calms-stress/487.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.