A fascinating study put wives in the anxiety-inducing MRI machine to make their brains fire stress! stress! stress! Then the researchers watched what happened to the women's brains when their husbands took their hands for reassurance. Immediately, the wives calmed down and their brains reduced their fear shots. Having strangers hold the women's hands did not have the same effect.
Even more fascinating, the anxiety-reducing effect was stronger for the closest couples. Dr. James A. Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, the study's lead author, and his co-authors, Dr. Hillary Schaefer and Dr. Richard J. Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, said that "supercouples," who scored at the highest end of emotional closeness on the study's screening questionnaire, showed the biggest effects.
This leads to the natural question: when husbands are in the MRI machine and their wives are holding their hands, do we see the same anxiety and same anxiety reduction? I asked Dr. Coan, who reports that the team is busily conducting the complementary study. He added that they will also be testing homosexual couples to see if there is a similar effect.
Here is my hypothesis: wives are more reassured by their husbands' touch than vice-versa. This goes back to the discussion of protection as one of the jobs that husbands normally do. The great thing about a scientific hypothesis is that it can be tested, and a disconfirmation is as valuable as a confirmation. So we will see what the Coan team (Coan-heads? Surely not) report next year. I will keep an eye out for it.