UVA Researchers Seek Couples for Hand-Holding Study

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University of Virginia researchers are recruiting dozens of married couples to hold hands, in the name of science. Researchers will study the brain's chemical reaction in response to the touch of a loved one.

Sara Medina-Devilliers, the lab coordinator, is signing up happily married couples to study hand-holding. She's working with UVA clinical psychology researcher James Coan, who’s discovered the human brain responds differently to the emotion of worry with a partner's touch.

“One of the things we want to do is figure out how the brain takes those social relationships and transforms that into better health and well-being,” said Coan.

The research team is looking for 60 happy couples married more than two years to take part in the study.

While one spouse spends an hour inside the MRI, the other spouse, or a stranger, will be seated on that stool holding their hand. While in this room, technicians monitor all of their brain activity.

A signal inside the MRI will alert the spouse who's being monitored that a mild electric shock may be coming.

“There are parts of your brain that when your partner is getting shocked, you think of it as yourself getting shocked,” said Medina-DeVilliers.

Medina-Devilliers and Coan believe an act as simple as hand-holding triggers chemicals in the brain that could be used in therapy to improve relationships.

“It really is something that contributes to our scientific understanding of how relationships work, why they work the way they do,” said Coan.

Each couple will spend about three hours with the research team. UVA is enrolling couples now to complete the study by the end of the year.

For more information, or to participate, click here.

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