When Stressed, Calling Mother Helps

CallingAccording to a new study, the best way to calm stressed out children at school or summer camp, too far away for a mother’s hug, is to allow them to talk to Mother on the phone, which is almost as good as a hug from her.

This works well, at least for young girls, who saw a reduction in a key stress hormone and the release of oxytocin, a feel good brain chemical believed to play a key role in forming bonds, simply by talking with their mother on the phone.

Seth D. Pollak, Ph. D., a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and one of the study’s authors said these findings bring to mind the 1980s AT&T ad campaign urging people to ‘reach out and touch someone’.

The idea, Pollak says was picking up the phone and calling someone was like giving them a hug, which now seems to be actually true, especially if its Mum on the other end of the line.

For the study, in order to stress out the children, researchers asked 61 girls aged 7 to 12, to either give a speech or solve a math problem in front of an audience.

Afterward, one-third of the girls were allowed to be reunited with their mothers, who hugged and soothed them for 15 minutes. Another one-third were allowed to speak with their mothers on the phone for 15 minutes. The last group were made to watch a neutral movie i. e. not Bambi for 75 minutes, which the first two groups were also allowed to watch for 60 minutes, after they had seen or spoken to their mothers.

The researchers then used saliva samples to test the girls’ cortisol, the stress hormone levels, both before and after the stress test, including measuring oxytocin level in the girls’ urine.

They found cortisol levels dropped immediately after the stress test for the girls soothed by their mothers, either in person or on the phone, returning to normal after about half an hour. In contrast, cortisol levels in the group who only watched a movie, continued to rise after the test, remaining higher than normal throughout the study period.

Similarly, oxytocin levels rose sharply in the girls who interacted with their mothers, remaining elevated for over an hour after the test, with the no contact group showing no increase in oxytocin levels.

Lane Strathearn, MBBS, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston, called the findings extremely powerful, saying this is the first study to demonstrate a mother’s voice, rather than touch, can significantly raise the levels of oxytocin. A study he recently conducted, also showed babies’ oxytocin levels went up when they heard their mothers’ voice or could see them in a mirror.

Both animal and human studies have led researchers to believe physical contact is necessary to boost oxytocin in the body.

In humans, breastfeeding, hugging, and orgasm results in a release of oxytocin, which also triggers contractions during labour; with pitocin, a drug for speeding up labour being an artificial version of oxytocin.

Evidence from animal studies suggests oxytocin helps prepare a female’s brain for motherhood.

The findings have been published in the British Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.