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A working mum who can't be at home to cuddle her unhappy child can relax as hearing her voice on the phone comforts just as much as a hug.
60 girls were put in a stressful situation and researchers monitored their hormonal responses when they were either hugged or phones afterwards.
Just hearing their mother's voice produced the same amount of the hormone oxytocin as physical comfort.
In the study, the girls, aged from 7 to 12, were asked to make an off-the-cuff speech and then solve a series of sums in front of a panel of strangers - the sort of experiences which made their hearts pound and sent the levels of the stress hormone cortisol soaring.
Mum was on hand immediately afterwards to offer physical comfort to the one group of girls - either a hug or an arm around the shoulder. Another group was simply handed a phone with Mum on the line, while a third group watched 'March of the Penguins' which is regarded as being an emotionally-neutral film.
Oxytocin, a hormone which reduces the effects of cortisol, rose in both groups to just about the same levels. Oxytocin levels in the film group did not change.
"It was understood that oxytocin release in the context of social bonding usually required physical contact... But it's clear from these results that a mother's voice can have the same effect as a hug, even if they're not standing there," said Dr Leslie Seltzer, who led the research.
Research has suggested that even in the womb a foetus, certainly itowards the end of pregnancy, is capable of recognising its mother's voice. It is unclear whether this has any emotional impact at this young age.
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