Recently Brian Chin at Carnegie Mellon University published an interesting paper on Psychoneuroendocrinology. Chin showed that compared to single people, married people have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva. The level of salivary cortisol resembles that in the blood. Notably, in this study, the salivary cortisol was measured during waking hours on three separate days. This suggests that the level of cortisol here reflects the basal or chronic level of stress response in the body.
Stressed people, shift-time workers, sleep deprived individuals, patients receiving hormone therapies, depressed people (melancholic), and overweight people often exhibit high levels of cortisol. Chin’s study suggests that single people are more stressed than married people and that marriage buffers chronic stress.
This finding reminds me of several insightful studies published years ago. When threatened by electric shock in the laboratory, compared to women holding a male stranger’s hand or no hand at all, married women holding their husband’s hand exhibited attenuated brain activation in areas representation threat responses such as the anterior insula. This threat buffering effect varied with marital quality, so women with higher marital quality show much less activation in the threat-related brain areas.
High-quality partner support is the magic here. I will treat this topic thoroughly in my forthcoming book Psychology for Pregnancy . Again I’ll keep you updated.