When it comes to internal pain, I have not evolved a whole lot from when I was in fourth grade: I still go running to mom with my tears. Even as I know something in our conversation could very well trigger more anxiety or I question the advice she dolls out, I am still comforted by her voice. There is no real logic. It’s somewhat instinctual.
Science confirms the maternal calming effect. In 2010 a study by anthropologist Leslie Seltzer of the University of Wisconsin found that both a phone conversation with mom and face-to-face conversations triggered a drop in cortisol and a rise in oxytocin in young girls.
Based on that study Seltzer conducted another experiment a year later where she recruited 64 girls between the ages of 7 and 12 to solve difficult math problems in front of three adults who observed them impassively. After completion, the girls were assigned to one of four groups: one that didn’t talk to their moms at all; one that talked to their moms on the phone; one that talked to their moms in person; and one that communicated with their mom via instant message.
Just as in the first study, the girls who talked to their moms on the phone or in person were consoled as evidenced by a change in hormone levels. However, there was little change in hormonal levels for the girls who used IM as a means to communicate.
Seltzer believes, then, that it’s mom’s voice that does the soothing more than her message. So even if we don’t like what she says, we still benefit from hearing the tones and intonations that identify her as the one and only person who has comforting power.
Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.