Hi, Mom: How Maternal Comfort Makes Kids Calm And Men Reckless


According to a new study, just a phone call from Mom is enough to soothe stressed-out kids. And the effect of maternal soothing may persist into adulthood, even influencing how men interact with other women.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison put 61 girls, ages 7-12, through stressful math and public speaking assignments. Afterwards, some got physical comfort from their moms, some got to talk to their moms on the phone, and the remainder just watched an “emotionally neutral” movie (the former two groups got to see some of the movie after their mom sessions). The girls who got maternal hugs after the test experienced a marked drop in the stress hormone cortisol and an increase in bonding hormone oxytocin — but so did kids who got a phone call instead. Seth Pollak, director of the lab that conducted the experiment said in a statement,

That a simple telephone call could have this physiological effect on oxytocin is really exciting. […] For years I’ve seen students leaving exams and the first thing they do is pull out their cell phone and make a call. I used to think, ‘How could those over-attentive, helicopter parents encourage that?’ But now? Maybe it’s a quick and dirty way to feel better. It’s not pop psychology or psychobabble.

In addition to justifying the behavior of stressed-out college students, the benefits of a phone call may be reassuring to those who live far away from their moms. For many people over the age of 18, a hug from Mom is a plane flight away — but in terms of creating a feeling of funding, maybe a phone conversation is almost as good. I’d like to see the flipside of this research — what effect the phone calls had on moms.

Memories of maternal comfort are apparently powerful, if you believe the analysis of another recent study. Jonathan Levav of Columbia University and Jennifer J. Argo of the University of Alberta found that men were more willing to take risks if they got a handshake or a pat on the back from a woman beforehand. Similar contact from a man had no effect. LiveScience explains,

The researchers think this comes from the way that mothers use touch to make their babies feel secure.
According to the researchers, when we are infants, we receive a lot of touch from our mothers. This creates a sense of attachment, which makes a baby feel secure.
This helps the youngster’s sense of adventure; they’re more willing to take the risks that come with exploring unfamiliar contexts and strange situations.

This doesn’t seem like the only possible explanation — an earlier study, for instance, showed men were more likely to take risks if they were “sexually motivated” by the presence of attractive women. But it is intriguing — and maybe slightly depressing — that the influence of maternal comfort might be so strong that men react to the touch of any woman the way they once reacted to their mothers. A simple conversation with a woman, without physical contact, didn’t have the same effect on men’s risk tolerance — so a phone call might not have worked on them the way worked on the stressed-out girls. This could be a relief for moms — a call to your kid might be soothing, but it probably won’t encourage him to gamble.

Image via Stefan Glebowski/Shutterstock.com.

A Woman’s Touch Increases Risk-Taking In Men [LiveScience]
A Phone Call From Mom Reduces Stress As Well As A Hug [Scientific American]
Mom’s Voice Can Ease Stress Even If She’s Not There [USA Today]

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin