A new study has found that all women need to lower their stress levels is a strong and happy marriage.
A team of researchers led by James A. Coan, a University of Virginia neuroscientist has found that women under stress who hold their husbands' hands show signs of immediate relief, which can clearly be seen on their brain scans.
Coan, an assistant professor in the U.Va. Neuroscience Graduate Programme and the Department of Psychology, and his team conducted a study involving several couples who rated themselves as highly satisfied with their marriages.
As a part of their study, the researchers 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.
They found that the MRI was able to show how these women's brains responded to this handholding while in a threatening situation.
The researchers noted 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.
"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," said Dr. Coan.
The study is published in the December 2006 issue of the journal Psychological Science.