Side Note: Hate to be the bearer of untimely news for those of you ladies who have long ago left your childhood development stages but for those of you with a growing child or living with one, this study might be quite revealing especially considering our society’s transition into a technologically dominant world. It may be logical to come to the conclusion that perhaps Instant Messaging each other for comfort may not be as effective as actually speaking in comfort to one another but this notion just received some credibility at least for the growing females. I am definitely going to be bringing this up to my sister as my niece has yet to enter her early school stages and this bit of data certainly seems helpful.
Instant messages are ubiquitous and convenient, but something primal may be lost in translation.
When girls stressed by a test talked with their moms, stress hormones dropped and comfort hormones rose. When they used IM, nothing happened. By the study’s neurophysiological measures, IM was barely different than not communicating at all.
“IM isn’t really a substitute for in-person or over-the-phone interaction in terms of the hormones released,” said psychologist Leslie Seltzer of the University of Wisconsin, a co-author of the new study. “People still need to interact the way we evolved to interact.”
In earlier work, Seltzer’s team showed that both phone conversations with mom and face-to-face talks triggered similar hormonal responses: A drop in cortisol, which is generally linked to stress, and a rise in oxytocin, which is linked to pleasure.
For the latest study, published in the January issue of Evolution and Human Behavior, they wanted to identify the source of that comforting. Maybe it’s something mom says, in which case the medium of communication shouldn’t matter at all — or maybe it’s something in the sound of her voice.
“Would this still work if we took out the tone, if we took out the verbal cues, and all we had left over was the content of the message?” said Seltzer.
The researchers recruited 64 girls between the ages of 7 and 12, pre-screened to remove anyone with histories of extreme family difficulties or poor maternal relationships. The girls then underwent a standard routine for inducing stress in the laboratory: They were asked to solve difficult math problems in front of three unknown adults who watched them impassively.
After finishing, the girls were assigned to one of four groups. One didn’t talk at all to their mothers. Another group talked by phone, another had a face-to-face conversation, and another communicated by instant message. The researchers then measured their cortisol and oxytocin levels, and compared them to pre-test measurements.
As expected, girls who heard their mother’s voice, either in person or on the phone, were consoled. But among girls who used IM, hormone levels barely changed. Translated into words on a screen, mom’s words seemingly lost their comforting power.
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