New research suggests that relationships are the secret to keeping calm and carrying on. Although it is widely accepted that relationships help people live longer, it has been difficult to measure the physiological benefit of having a partner. A new study now provides physical evidence that relationships provide immediate stress protection.
Brigham Young University professors sought to obtain proof of the protective effects of marriage in relieving stress by using an infrared camera to assess eye pupil diameter with an infrared camera. Psychology researcher Wendy Birmingham’s lab assessed 40 participating couples as they tried to complete an intentionally challenging task on a computer.
Some of the couples were randomly assigned to work alone. The others were allowed to sit near their spouse and hold their hand. While they worked, an infrared camera continuously measured pupil diameter, which is a direct signal of the body’s physiological stress response –a close-up view of a human eye.
“The neat thing is that the pupils respond within 200 milliseconds to the onset of a stressor,” said Steven Luke, a study co-author and psychology professor at BYU.
“It can immediately measure how someone responds to stress and whether having social support can change that. It’s not just a different technique, it’s a different time scale.”
The experiment initially stressed out participants in both groups. But the spouse support group calmed down significantly sooner, allowing them to work on the task at reduced stress levels.
Experts note that measuring health benefits from social connection in real-time is quite rare.
The study, which builds upon landmark research at BYU showing that relationships help people live longer, appears in the scientific journal PLOS One.
“When we have a spouse next to us and with us, it really helps us navigate and get through the stress we have to deal with in life,” Birmingham said.
For instance, graduate school can be pretty tough. But Tyler Graff, the lead study author, points to the high level of support he is receiving right now as a PhD candidate.
“It was a ton of work, and I learned so much throughout the process,” said Graff. “It’s amazing to be here and have fantastic mentors to guide me.”
Source: Brigham Young University