Holding hands improves health
February 24, 2011 1 Comment
Wives don’t get all the credit for improving a partner’s health. One study revealed that when your husband holds your hand, he’s doing more than just showing you affection. He’s lowering your stress level.
That’s what James A. Coan, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Virginia, found as he studied the effect hand holding had on stressed-out women. Dr. Coan recruited sixteen married women who had scored high on a marital satisfaction quiz. The goal of the study was to determine whether a comforting gesture from a husband could lower a woman’s stress levels. In the lab setting, the stressor was a mild electric shock administered while the women were undergoing magnetic resonance imaging scans of their brain.
The researchers looked at the women’s brains under three scenarios. One scan showed the woman experiencing the shock without any comfort from another person. The next two times they delivered the shock, the woman was holding the hand of her husband or the hand of a stranger.
The brain scans showed that any form of hand holding offered comfort and reduced the appearance of stress on the MRI images. But the biggest gains were seen when the woman was holding her husband’s hand.
Hand holding, in general, essentially quieted certain parts of the brain related to the stress response. But when a woman was holding her husband’s hand the brain scan showed additional calming in the region of the brain that controls emotional response. The scientists saw further differences when they compared women in the study with the highest marriage happiness scores. Among those women, spousal hand-holding had an even greater effect, calming regions of the brain associated with pain, much as an analgesic drug would do.
The study shows that when someone else is helping you cope, the brain doesn’t have to work as hard. Unfortunately, the researchers didn’t study whether hand holding has the same effect on a man’s brain as it does on a woman’s.