From the Lab: Hug Your Spouse (Updated)

Yesterday, we saw that receiving social support from a friend can be an effective way to reduce speech anxiety. Today, we’ll look at another strategy that can be even more effective.

Today’s strategy comes from a 2007 study in Psychoneuroendocrinology. Like yesterday’s study, it was based on the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), which includes preparing and delivering a 5 minute speech in which you pitch yourself as the best candidate for a job.

This study included one control group and two experimental groups. In the experimental group, participants (all of whom were married or cohabiting females) were asked to bring their partners (all male) with them. During the preparation period, their partners were told to give the participants support in one of two ways. One group was told to give the participants verbal social support, as in yesterday’s study. The other was told to give the participants physical social support in the form of a standardized shoulder massage.

Interestingly, in this study, verbal social support provided no benefit, a finding which the authors note is consistent with previous studies “indicating reduced responsiveness to verbal social support by a spouse in women.”* The shoulder massage, however, helped quite a bit, suggesting that physical social support can also be effective in reducing speech anxiety—perhaps even more effective! Whether it’s a shoulder massage, or even just a hug, receiving comforting touch from a loved one can make the task of speaking significantly less stressful.


* What should we take away from this finding? That it’s useless for husbands to verbally support their wives? Certainly not. Instead, what I’d take away from this is that everyone has different strategies that work for them. For some people, talking to a friend or their spouse will help a lot—for others, it won’t help at all. Or to reference another strategy from The Science of Speaking, some people think that power posing is ridiculous, while others maintain that it has completely changed their lives. As always, The Science of Speaking is a toolbox: pick the tools that work best for you.


Updated (4/25/17): A 2016 study found a similar effect in daughters who held hands with their mothers.

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