It’s nice to have friends. It makes you feel good about yourself, you have someone to do stuff with, and you have a source of ongoing support. Friends are great, there’s no doubt about that, but is it more than that? Recent research says yes. In fact, findings show that friendship between men can actually improve their physiological health as well as their mental well-being. For one thing, a good ‘bromance’ can help to reduce stress – and stress is a known factor in many physiological issues, including cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. But what exactly is it about friendship that is so great? And are men able to create strong enough bonds for friendship to show its true benefits?
A study recently published in Neuropsychopharmacology journal claims that men who are close to other men have higher levels of oxytocin in their brains – a chemical often referred to as ‘the cuddle hormone’. It’s this hormone that makes people better at handling stress and it’s this, research claims, that helps to improve men’s physical health.
The study, conducted by Elizabeth Kirby of Stanford University, put male rats into mildly stressful situations – namely that of being stuck in a confined space for around three hours. Those rats who had previously had ‘friends’ (i.e. those which had been in cages together for one week previously in order for them to bond) showed higher levels of oxytocin, the anti-stress hormone, than those rats without friends. What’s more, the study showed that being placed under stressful situations made the rats more likely to be social and co-operative, as those who returned to their ‘friends’ touched each other more, huddled together more, and generally helped each other overcome their difficult situations.