A phone call from mother to daughter is just as comforting as a hug, scientists find

As the slogan goes, it's good to talk. Scientists have discovered that a conversation on the phone can be as good as a hug in terms of boosting the "love hormone" oxytocin – at least when it comes to mothers and daughters.

Oxytocin is often called the love hormone because it appears to promote social bonding and is released into the bloodstream when babies suckle at the breast or when lovers embrace. But now researchers have found that a telephone conversation can also do the trick. The scientists investigated oxytocin levels in girls aged between seven and 12 after they had gone through the stressful experience of reading aloud to strangers. After the event, a comforting hug by their mothers saw oxytocin levels rise in the girls' bloodstreams – but so did a simple phone call from their mums.

It is the first time scientists have shown that talking alone can raise levels of the hormone, which is known to be crucial for the formation and retention of social bonds. They suggest the findings could be important in understanding what can go wrong with children who become institutionalised from an early age and find it difficult to form social relationships in later life.

Some of the girls in the study were not allowed to interact in any way with their mothers immediately after their ordeal and their oxytocin levels continued to remain low, while levels of the stress hormone cortisol remained high. This showed how important a mother's attention is to a child's oxytocin levels, even if the contact is in the form of a phone call, the scientists said.

"The children who got to interact with their mothers had virtually the same hormonal response, whether they interacted in person or over the phone," said Professor Seth Pollack of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It was understood that oxytocin released in the context of social bonding usually required physical contact. But it's clear from these results that a mother's voice can have the same effect as a hug," Professor Pollack said.

"It stays well beyond that stressful task. By the time the children go home, they're still enjoying the benefits of this relief and their cortisol levels are still low. It's hard to get cortisol up. It's hard to get oxytocin up. That a simple telephone call could have this physiological effect on oxytocin is really exciting," he added.

Dr Leslie Seltzer, who carried out the study, suggested that children who lack close parental contact in early life may suffer in later years with personal relationships partly because of an inability to produce oxytocin in response to the normal stimuli.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer - Hosted Telecommunications

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for a Ne...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor / Partner - Cheltenham

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: A very rare high level opportunity with a fir...

Recruitment Genius: IT Manager

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This distributor of electronics...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client has a number of different bus...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower