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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'