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Mom's Voice Soothes Stress, Even by Phone

Study Shows a Mother's Voice Can Reduce Stress Levels in Young Girls

Gender Differences in Reacting to Stress continued...

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."

She adds that "male children are equally interesting in their own right and will be the subjects of future work."

In addition to reducing stress, oxytocin also may strengthen bonds between people, Seltzer says.

"For years," Pollak says, "I've seen students leaving exams and the first thing they do is pull out their cell phone and make a call. I used to think, 'How could those over-attentive, helicopter parents encourage that?' But now? Maybe it's a quick and dirty way to feel better."

The fact that "a simple telephone call" could raise oxytocin levels "is really exciting," he adds.

Seltzer is testing whether other methods of communication, such as text messaging, could have the same calming effect as a phone call or hug.

"On the one hand, we're curious to see if this effect is unique to humans," she says in the news release. "On the other, we're hoping researchers who study vocal communication will consider looking at oxytocin release in other animals and applying it to broader questions of social behavior and evolutionary biology."

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