A new study indicates that women who describe themselves as happily married enjoy certain benefits of being in a happy marriage:
A University of Virginia neuroscientist has found that women under stress who hold their husbands' hands show signs of immediate relief, which can clearly be seen on their brain scans. "This is the first study of the neurological reactions to human touch in a threatening situation, and the first study to measure how the brain facilitates the health-enhancing properties of close social relationships," says Dr. James A. Coan, author of the study, which is published in the December 2006 issue of the journal Psychological Science....I haven't read the study in question, so I don't want to read too much into what appears, at first glance, to be a rather troubling methodology. However, I will take issue with the press release I'm quoting, which is titled "High-quality marriages help to calm nerves." A more reasonable conclusion would be that high-quality relationships help to calm nerves (as Dr. Coan himself implies). I suppose it's possible that further testing will show that women with a marriage certificate are more comforted by handholding than those without, but I suspect that'd have more to do with our cultural biases than anything else.
Coan and colleagues designed a functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) study in which 16 married women were subjected to the threat of a very mild electric shock while they by turns held their husband's hand, the hand of a stranger (male) or no hand at all. The MRI was able to show how these women's brains responded to this handholding while in a threatening situation.
Interestingly enough, this research was undertaken at the University of Virginia. Given that state's rabid anti-gay hysteria, I can't help wondering whether the arguably transgressive act of holding hands in a clinical setting might lessen the comforting effect of contact with a same-sex partner.
Just speculation, of course...but I'm always a bit worried about the potential for "objective" tools like MRI to naturalize oppressive social structures.
Hold my hand, won't you?