Being near your spouse has a measurable calming effect, research shows
A new study from Brigham Young University has demonstrated that being close to your significant other has a measurable calming effect. The researchers analyzed the pupils of individuals to measure their stress levels, which were found to return to normal much faster in the presence of a spouse.
Working in the lab of Wendy Birmingham, a psychology professor at BYU, researchers designed an experiment using an infrared camera to study the pupils of 40 couples as they attempted to complete a challenging computer task.
Some of the couples were instructed to work alone, while the others were allowed to sit next to their spouse and hold hands. As the participants worked, the camera was continuously measuring their pupil diameter, which directly reflects the body’s physiological stress response.
“The neat thing is that the pupils respond within 200 milliseconds to the onset of a stressor,” said study co-author Professor Steven Luke. “It can immediately measure how someone responds to stress and whether having social support can change that. It’s not just a different technique, it’s a different time scale.”
Initially, all of the participants in both groups experienced stress. However, the spouse support group calmed down much faster and completed the task at reduced stress levels.
The study is exceptional because it is rare that experts are able to measure health benefits from social interaction in real-time. The investigation also builds upon landmark research at BYU showing that relationships help people live longer.
“When we have a spouse next to us and with us, it really helps us navigate and get through the stress we have to deal with in life,” said Professor Birmingham.
The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.