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Stress Management Health Center

Mom's Voice Soothes Stress, Even by Phone

Study Shows a Mother's Voice Can Reduce Stress Levels in Young Girls
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"It was [previously] understood that oxytocin release in the context of social bonding usually required physical contact," Seltzer says in a news release. "But it's clear from these results that a mother's voice can have the same effect as a hug, even if she's not standing there."

The relief from anxiety lasts, Pollak says. "By the time the children go home, they're still enjoying the benefits of this relief and their cortisol levels are still low," he says in the news release.

Gender Differences in Reacting to Stress

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and they square with a "tend and befriend" theory, explaining how stress regulation may differ between females and males.

Males, when confronted with a threat, may be more likely to choose between fight or flight. But females with offspring in tow, or slowed by pregnancy, may have evolved to make different choices.

"You might not be able to run with a child or defend yourself without endangering both of you," Seltzer says. She adds that it might make more sense for a female to create or use a social bond to deal with a stressor, either through touch or soothing communication.

"Apparently, this hormone oxytocin reduces stress in females after both types of contact, and in doing so may strengthen bonds between individuals," Seltzer says.

Seltzer tells WebMD in an email that stress effects on boys were not addressed in this study, but experiments on young guys are under way. "The results aren't all in, but yes, boys do look different. So do girls who interact with dad instead of mom."

So would a hug from a dad, or a soothing phone call, do any good for children of either gender? "We just don't know," Pollak tells WebMD in an email. "But hormone systems between males and females may also be different. This was the very first study of its kind using the voice."

Seltzer says her team "chose to focus on girls for this particular study because the hormone oxytocin, which we think helps regulate social behavior, is typically studied in females because of its role in maternal-infant attachment."

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