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The surprising benefits of male bonding

Posted on 05-30-16 in Emotion, Recovery, Relationships

“I love you, man!”

“Bromances” – an easier way to describe a tight, platonic friendship between two men – are often portrayed humorously. Male bonding is a faintly ridiculous thing, judging from television and movies, with a clownish aspect that invites jokes. Even now, guys aren’t expected to be emotionally open, even with each other.

This is too bad, because a new study conducted by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found bromances may have the same healthy effects as those found in romantic relationships.

Stress and the “hug hormone”

In the study, researchers placed male rats together in cages and kept them immobilized for three hours. As they were immobilized, water was repeatedly taken away from their cages.

When the water was returned to their cages, the rats didn’t act aggressively; rather, they shared the water without aggressive behaviors and spent more time touching each other and huddling together. Dissections of the rats’ brains showed their brains contained higher levels of oxytocin.

The results were different in a second experiment. In that experiment, the rats were sprayed with a solution containing fox urine, a predator of rats in the wild. Those rats became aggressive, with none of the bonding behaviors the first group of rats showed. They also showed lower concentrations of oxytocin in their brains.

For the researchers, the withdrawn, aggressive behavior seen in the second group of rats appeared similar to behaviors in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some researchers have suggested oxytocin could play a role in treating the symptoms of PTSD.

The hug hormone and stress

Popularly called the “hug hormone,” oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus. Oxytocin is associated with maternal behavior and appears to play a role in encouraging people to reach out to others after a stressful event. Researchers at Concordia University in Montreal conducted an experiment in 2013 when they gave 100 students nasal sprays. The students either received a spray containing oxytocin or a placebo.

Afterward, the students were subjected to situations in which they were rejected socially. Researchers posed as fellow students and acted rudely towards the participants, interrupting and ignoring them. The participants then filled out a questionnaire on mood and personality. The researchers found the participants who received the oxytocin spray reported a greater level of trust in others even after being rejected by the researchers – those who received the placebo did not. Those students who weren’t emotionally affected by rejection had no response to the oxytocin.

Bromances: A friendship with real benefits

Other studies have shown increased levels of oxytocin has genuine benefits for men (and others):

  • A 2012 study published in Biological Psychiatry found fathers who received a nasal spray containing oxytocin bonded more closely with their babies.
  • Increased levels of oxytocin can raise a person’s pain threshold.
  • Oxytocin can lower the amount of cortisol – the body’s stress hormone – produced in response to stressful events.

It can be easy to laugh at the idea of bromances, but tight friendships are a gift. A support system – particularly when a person is navigating treatment – is a valuable thing to have. This is something Sovereign Health understands. Our staff of trained experts treats their patients as individuals, creating a personalized treatment plan that will ensure the best possible chance at a lasting recovery. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at news@sovhealth.com.