A University of Michigan (UM) study has identified the reason why dishing with a girlfriend does wonders for a woman's mood: feeling emotionally close to a friend increases levels of the hormone progesterone, helping to boost well-being and reduce anxiety and stress.
"This study establishes progesterone as a likely part of the neuroendocrine basis of social bonding in humans," said UM researcher Stephanie Brown. A sex hormone that fluctuates with the menstrual cycle, progesterone is also present in low levels in post-menopausal women and in men. Earlier research has shown that higher levels of progesterone increase the desire to bond with others, but the current study is the first to show that bonding with others increases levels of progesterone.
"It's important to find the links between biological mechanisms and human social behavior," said Brown. "These links may help us understand why people in close relationships are happier, healthier, and live longer than those who are socially isolated."
According to Brown, the findings are consistent with a new evolutionary theory of altruism which argues that the hormonal basis of social bonds enables people to suppress self-interest when necessary in order to promote the well-being of another person, as when taking care of children or helping ailing family members or friends. The results also help explain why social contact has well-documented health benefits.
"Many of the hormones involved in bonding and helping behavior lead to reductions in stress and anxiety in both humans and other animals. Now we see that higher levels of progesterone may be part of the underlying physiological basis for these effects," Brown noted.
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Source: University of Michigan