Couples who play board games or take a painting class together produce more oxytocin or ‘love hormone’, which is associated with bonding and family cohesiveness, a study has found. The study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, found that men wielding paintbrushes released twice as much or more oxytocin as the level of women painters and couples playing games.
“We were expecting the opposite — that couples playing the board games would interact more because they were communicating about the games and strategies, or because they were competing, and with more interaction, they would release more oxytocin,” said Karen Melton, an assistant professor at the Baylor University in the US.
Researchers also expected that painting couples would be more attentive to the instructor and to the canvas than to their partners — but instead, couples in the art class reported more partner-touching than those playing board games. “Typically, an art class is not seen as an interactive date with your partner. But sometimes couples that were painting turned the activity into a bonding time by choosing to interact — putting an arm around their partner or simply saying, ‘Good job,'” Melton said.
The study is the first to examine how distinct types of leisure are associated with oxytocin release, researchers said. “Our big finding was that all couples release oxytocin when playing together — and that’s good news for couples’ relationships,” Melton said. “But men in the art class released 2 to 2.5 times more oxytocin than the other groups. This suggests that some types of activities may be more beneficial to males than females, and vice versa,” she said. Of the four groups, the release of oxytocin increased most for the men in the art class, followed by women playing board games; women in the art class; and last, men playing board games.
However, the last three groups did not differ significantly from one another, the study found. Researchers also identified a significant environmental impact, in that couples in a novel setting and activity released more oxytocin than in a familiar home-like environment. That suggests that novelty can be an important factor to consider when planning date nights with our partners, they said.
For the study, Melton and Maria Boccia, a professor at the Baylor University, recruited 20 couples ranging in age from 25 to 40. Couples were randomly assigned to participate in one of two couple dates — game night or couple art class — for one hour. The other group participated in painting classes for couples at a community art studio. To measure participants’ oxytocin levels, researchers took urine samples before and after the activities. They also administered a six-item survey about the couple’s familiarity with the activities and about their communication, touch and eye contact with their partners during the sessions, which lasted for about an hour.