NEW YORK, January 31, 2006 ( – The New York Times reports today on a study showing that a combination of physical touch and the deep emotional commitment between married couples greatly reduces the neurological signs of stress.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Virginia studied the effects of touch on 16 couples that rated “very happily married” on a questionnaire. The research showed that a touch of the hand from a husband had a significant soothing effect on his wife’s stress levels.

The woman’s normal neural reaction to anticipating threatening situation, in this case a low-level electric shock, leveled off when her husband held her hand. “The effect of this simple gesture of social support is that the brain and body don’t have to work as hard, they’re less stressed in response to a threat,” said Dr. James A. Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and the study’s lead author.

The scientists believe that the normal fight-or-flight response to physical or emotional danger can be over reactive in the day to day situations most people face and a hug or other touch “is a very good thing, is deeply soothing,” said Dr. Coan. The Times says the study answers the longstanding question of why married couples tend to be healthier than singles.

The hand-holding effect was even more pronounced on “supercouples” those who enjoyed an extremely emotionally close relationship. The stress-reducing effect was present but less pronounced when the hand-holding is from a stranger the study found.

The study is set to appear in the journal Psychological Science this year.

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