Why do couples hold hands? And why does the touch of a mother’s hand so quickly soothe a scared and crying child? Jim Coan from the University of Virginia wanted to investigate the effect of hand holding on couples when they were experiencing a stressful event.
He asked 16 happily married women to undergo an fMRI scan while holding the hands, on separate occasions, of both their husband and a stranger. The women were told that they would be receiving a mild electric shock to their ankle. The scans showed that the women’s brains lit up in anticipation of the shock being delivered. The reported experience of pain decreased whenever their hand was held, but by far the biggest decrease came when their husband held their hand. This was independently verified by an MRI scan.
It’s not only hand holding that has an effect. Kory Floyd asked a group of couples to kiss more often and more romantically during a six- week trial. Compared to the control, the group that kissed more often showed statistically significant decreases in total cholesterol and perceived stress, and an increase in overall relationship satisfaction.