It is believed that communication can solve many things. It not only rules out misunderstanding, but also allows you to explain yourself. And at times, a small chat with your friends can cheer you up in unexpected ways. Now recently, the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign learned that women who communicate with their female friends have lower level of stress hormone across the lifespan.
The study was published in the Journal of Women and Aging. It was titled ‘What are friends for? The impact of friendship on communicative efficiency and cortisol response during collaborative problem solving among younger and older women.’
The study highlighted the key differences in the ways various age groups communicate. Along with this, one conversational component emerged that stands the test of time — friendship — specifically, bonds between two female individuals.
The study was led by former Beckman Institute postdoctoral researchers Michelle Rodrigues and Si On Yoon. Under their guidance, an interdisciplinary team studied and evaluated how interlocutors’ age and familiarity with one another affect a conversation. The overall effectiveness and stress responses of the interaction were reviewed and the results were generated. The foundation of this female-driven study is on two hypotheses.
First, being the tend-and-befriend hypothesis and the second is the socio-emotional selectivity hypothesis. The former one challenges the traditionally masculine “fight-or-flight" dichotomy, while the latter postulates a social “pruning" as human beings with their increasing age pursue higher-quality circles of friends.
Rodrigues explained that women have evolved an ‘alternative mechanism in response to stress.’ According to him, in order to deal with stress, women can befriend their female peers. Both the above-stated theories were merged by the interdisciplinary team and a single query came out, which read across women’s lifespans, how are the tendencies to “tend and befriend" as well as socially select reflected in their communication?
A pool of 32 women, including 16 older adults (aged 62-79) and 16 younger adults (aged 18-25) participated in the research. Each participant was either paired with a friend or a stranger. The partnerships established between two individuals underwent a series of conversational challenges.
The research found that the younger adult pairs communicated efficiently with familiar partners as compared to their older counterparts. They communicated less efficiently with unfamiliar partners, while the older adults demonstrated conversational dexterity. It seems that the younger adults are a little more hesitant in trying to have communication with strangers, whereas the older adults have an easier time.
Along with many other observations included in the study, researchers have also noticed that friendship has the same effect throughout the lifespan. Rodrigues said that familiar partners and friendship buffer stress, and its preserved with age.