Oxytocin is a hormone that is released by the “posterior lobe of the pituitary gland,” and can be known as the “love hormone.” Oxytocin is important for mothers, because after childbirth, it helps reduce uterus size after giving birth. Does affection have health benefits?
One experiment was done testing the heart rate and blood pressure of women after having some alone time with their partner. Thirty-eight women had their oxytocin and blood pressure levels tested before and after a 10-minute period of “cuddle time,” that ended with a 20 second long hug. People with more supportive partners (which was determined by a relationship questionnaire) showed higher levels of oxytocin before and after the 10-minute period. Women were tested before the experiment for oxytocin levels. They were broken in 3 groups; people who initially had low OT (oxytocin) levels, people who had moderate OT levels, and people who had high OT levels
During the intimate periods, “Couples were seated on a loveseat in a quiet room and instructed to sit close together, holding hands if they felt comfortable doing so. They were asked to talk about a time they had spent together that had made them feel closer as a couple (2 min). Next they watched a 5 min segment of a romantic video they had previously seen. They then were instructed to talk again for 2 min about a time during which they felt especially close as a couple. During this time couples were left alone for privacy, unmonitored and unobserved except when the experimenter entered the room to give instructions. At the end of this session partners stood for a 20 s hug.” (source)
After this period, women were given a few minutes to prepare for a speech. They then had to give a speech about something that made them angry, and wasn’t related to their partner. Their blood pressure and heart rates were taken during the preparation period, twice during the speech, and once after the speech. Blood samples were also drawn during the periods to test oxytocin levels.
It was found that the women who started out with lower levels of oxytocin at the beginning ended up having higher blood pressure and heart rates before and after the speech. But, during the preparation and speech periods, there was not a significant difference in blood pressure and heart rate between the 3 groups. This is shown in the following graphs.
So, the mechanism is the oxytocin, which is released by affection between people, such as hugging. And the oxytocin, in turn, helps lower blood pressure and heart rate. Reverse Causation is not a possible factor in this experiment because low blood pressure and heart rate can’t cause people to have affection. At first, it seemed strange to me that there wasn’t a control group of people who didn’t do anything, so that they could compare oxytocin levels between the people who did and didn’t do activities, but it seems to make sense, since they were analyzing people before and after their 10-minute session. It would be interesting to see if other methods of affection release oxytocin, and what action does it the most. Instead of doing a full 10 minutes of affection, they could have had couples do different tasks, like hold hands, hug, kiss, and other loving acts. They also could have compared oxytocin levels of people who are close, and strangers.
Carnegie Mellon University did an experiment on 404 healthy adults. Their hypothesis was that hugs help improve the immune system and would make the common cold easier to handle. First, they gave all 404 adults a questionnaire, and then they had telephone interviews, which helped determine how often they have interpersonal conflicts and how often they get hugs. Then, they gave all 404 of the participants a common cold virus, and monitored them in quarantine.
They found that the participants who reported having more hugs and social support had less severe symptoms. They believe that the participants who have more support have less stress, and therefore have stronger immune systems. I think that environment could be a factor in this experiment. They did not mention where the people came from, which could affect their immune system. People who live in an active community and live an active lifestyle would obviously have a stronger immune system, compared to people who have stressful jobs and not a lot of time to be active.
So, since both experiments concluded that affection can affect how healthy a person is, it’s safe to say that it is true. If you’re feeling stressed, try to hang out with your friends and relieve some of that stress, otherwise you could get sick, which could make situations even worse. Also, just go up to someone and give them a hug!