Holding Hands Can be a Natural Painkiller
February 14, 2006
The first study of how human touch affects neural stress response indicates that married women who hold their husbands' hands feel instant relief from extremely stressful situations.
The effect was visible in scans of brain areas that register emotional and physical alarm.
Emotional Distress Reduced
Sixteen happily married couples, all screened for their compatibility, were tested. Female patients were placed inside an MRI machine, aware they would receive periodic but mild shocks to an ankle. Brain images showed all the signs of emotional distress, but it diminished significantly when a husband touched his wife's hand.
The Closer, the Better
Women received more relief from a husband's touch than from a stranger's, which may be part of the explanation for the well-known truth that married men and women tend to be healthier than those who are unmarried.
Couples with an extremely close relationship, as judged by the result of a questionnaire, experienced the greatest effects, even reducing sensations of physical pain.
Withdrawal of TouchThis also may explain why the withdrawal of affectionate touch can be so upsetting. Rejection registers in the brain in a way similar to an electric shock. Physical problems, such as blisters, also tend to last longer during marital strife.