File this news item from the Washington Post under “Researching the Obvious”:
Husbands and wives lean on each other, but it turns out that lending a hand is good, too.
Research published in this month’s edition of the journal Psychological Science found that women facing a stressful event experienced less anxiety when they held their husbands’ hands.
In the study, 16 married women underwent a series of trials in which they were shown an image of a red X, indicating a 20 percent chance of a mild electric shock to an ankle, or a blue O, indicating no chance of a shock. Each woman variously held the hand of her husband, a stranger or no hand at all.
Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to assess how the women’s brains responded. Holding any hand helped relax the women, they found, but holding the spouse’s hand had an especially powerful effect.
“Holding any hand at all calms regions of the brain that are responsible for the body’s physical stress response,” said neuroscientist James A. Coan of the University of Virginia, the study’s lead author. “But only the spousal hand affected regions of the brain that are responsible for worrying. . . . This is the region which is thought to be associated with your experience of pain.”
The findings are in line with other research showing that social ties have beneficial effects on health. Married people are, on average, healthier and happier than unmarried people, researchers have found. And those in the happiest marriages tend to have lower risks of infection and faster recovery from injury than people in less blissful unions. Similarly, although all of the couples in the experiment rated themselves as happily married, women in the most satisfying marriages experienced the most potent calming effect of holding their husbands’ hands. [full text]
Future research will undoubtedly be devoted to determining if men experience less anxiety when their spouses hold their _____. Other studies will presumably substitute any meaningful human contact with clinical trials of Soothera or Embracex or some such magic pill.