Male friendships — portrayed and often winked at in bromance movies — can actually make men more resilient to stress and help them lead a longer, healthier life, suggests new research.
“A bromance can be a good thing,” said lead author Elizabeth Kirby, postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in the US.
The findings — published online in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology — are based on studies on male rodents housed in the same cage. The researchers found that mild stress can actually make male rats more social and cooperative than they are in an unstressed environment — much as humans come together after non-life-threatening events such as a national tragedy. After a mild stress, the rats showed increased levels of the hormone oxytocin in the brain and huddled and touched more.
The findings suggest that while moderate stress encourages male bonding, pro-social behaviour makes them more resilient to stress. “Even rats can have a good cuddle — essentially a male-male bromance — to help recover from a bad day,” Kirby — who started work on the study as a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley — said.
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“Having friends is not un-masculine,” she added. “These rats are using their rat friendships to recover from what would otherwise be a negative experience. If rats can do it, men can do it too,” Kirby noted.
The research also has implications for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said senior author Daniela Kaufer, associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
The work supports attempts to treat PTSD with oxytocin nasal sprays as a way to encourage social interactions that could lead to recovery. Oxytocin may also help those suffering from PTSD replace traumatic memories with less traumatic memories — so-called fear extinction, the study said.