Getting a call from mum can be nearly as effective as a maternal hug for calming down after a tough event, according to a new research.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, UK, measured levels of a stress hormone, cortisol, and also a comforter hormone, oxytocin, among 61 young girls who had to make a presentation in public. The volunteers, aged seven to12, were asked to do public speaking and then carry out an oral arithmetic test in front of an audience, according to the experiment, reported by the British Journal proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Immediately after the event, a third of the girls were physically comforted by their mother; another third received a phone call from mum but did not see or touch her; and the remaining third received no support but watched a neutral film for 75 minutes.
As expected, cortisol levels, measured in saliva, soared, as the youngsters became stressed by having to address the public.
But within 30 minutes of the event, cortisol concentrations returned to normal among the children who experienced direct physical contact with their mother.
Among the speech-only group, it took somewhat longer — about an hour — for cortisol levels to subside to normal. But among the no-contact group, levels were still more than a third above normal at the one-hour mark. Similarly, oxytocin concentrations peaked highest among girls who were hugged, followed by girls who were spoken to.
Oxytocin is famous as the “cuddle” hormone, a feel-good, trust-making biochemical found only in mammals.
Past research has found that the hormone is released on physical contact, helping to cement attachment between parents and offspring, and between couples.
The new experiment confirms for the first time that this powerful hormone can also be triggered by words.
“Our results suggest that vocalisations may be as important as touch to the neuro-endocrine regulation of social bonding in our species,” says the report.
“Vocal cues may be a viable alternative to physical contact for servicing human relationships.” Speech came before oxytocin, and not the other way round, say the authors.