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Romantic partner embraces reduce cortisol release after acute stress induction in women but not in men

Publication year 2022
Published in PLoS ONE
Authors J. Packheiser, Gesa Berretz, Chantal Cebula, Blanca Maria Wortelmann, Panagiota Papadopoulou, Oliver T Wolf, Sebastian Ocklenburg,

Stress is omnipresent in our everyday lives. It is therefore critical to identify potential stress-buffering behaviors that can help to prevent the negative effects of acute stress in daily life. Massages, a form of social touch, are an effective buffer against both the endocrinological and sympathetic stress response in women. However, for other forms of social touch, potential stress-buffering effects have not been investigated in detail. Furthermore, the possible stress-buffering effects of social touch on men have not been researched so far. The present study focused on embracing, one of the most common forms of social touch across many cultures. We used a short-term embrace between romantic partners as a social touch intervention prior to the induction of acute stress via the Socially Evaluated Cold Pressor Test. Women who embraced their partner prior to being stressed showed a reduced cortisol response compared to a control group in which no embrace occurred. No stress-buffering effect could be observed in men. No differences between the embrace and control group were observed regarding sympathetic nervous system activation measured via blood pressure or subjective affect ratings. These findings suggest that in women, short-term embraces prior to stressful social situations such as examinations or stressful interviews can reduce the cortisol response in that situation.

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