When facing a stressful situation, thinking about your romantic partner may help keep your blood pressure under control just as effectively as actually having them in the room with you.
For a new study, researchers asked 102 participants to complete a stressful task submerging one foot into 3 inches of cold water ranging from 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers measured participants’ blood pressure, heart rate, and heart rate variability before, during, and after the task.
Researchers randomly assigned the participants, all of whom werein committed romantic relationships, to one of three conditions when completingthe task. They either had their significant other sitting quietly in the roomwith them during the task; they had to think about their romantic partner as asource of support during the task; or they had to think about their day duringthe task.
Those who had their partner physically present in the room orwho thought about their partner had a lower blood pressure response to thestress of the cold water than the participants in the control group, whoresearchers told to think about their day. Heart rate and heart ratevariability did not vary between the three groups.
The effect on blood pressure reactivity was just as powerfulwhether the partner was physically present or participants merely thought ofthem.
Although previous studies have suggested that having a partnerpresent or visualizing a partner can help manage the body’s physiologicalresponse to stress, the new study suggests that the two things are equallyeffective at least when it comes to blood pressure reactivity.
The findings may help explain, in part, why high-qualityromantic relationships are consistently associated with positive healthoutcomes in the scientific literature, says coauthor Kyle Bourassa, apsychology doctoral student at the University of Arizona.
“This suggests that one way being in a romantic relationshipmight support people’s health is through allowing people to better cope withstress and lower levels of cardiovascular reactivity to stress across the day,”Bourassa says. “And it appears that thinking of your partner as a source ofsupport can be just as powerful as actually having them present.”
The research appears in the journal Psychophysiology. This time, the algorithm reported that men’s brains were 2.4 years older than their true ages.
“The averagedifference in calculated brain age between men and women is significant andreproducible, but it is only a fraction of the difference between any twoindividuals,” Goyal says.
“It is stronger thanmany sex differences that have been reported, but it’s nowhere near as big adifference as some sex differences, such as height.”
The relativeyouthfulness of women’s brains was detectable even among the youngestparticipants, who were in their 20s.
“It’s not that men’sbrains age faster they start adulthood about three years older than women, andthat persists throughout life,” says Goyal, who is also an assistant professorof neurology and of neuroscience.
“What we don’t know iswhat it means. I think this could mean that the reason women don’t experienceas much cognitive decline in later years is because their brains areeffectively younger, and we’re currently working on a study to confirm that.”
Older women tend toscore better than men of the same age on tests of reason, memory, and problemsolving. The researchers are now following a cohort of adults over time to seewhether people with younger-looking brains are less likely to develop cognitiveproblems.