A new study conducted by researchers from the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology explored how women’s friendships can impact their overall well-being.
According to the researchers, talking with friends was linked with lower stress levels; the team found that those who spent time talking with their close friends during their experiment had lower cortisol levels.
“Women have evolved an alternative mechanism in response to stress,” said researcher Michelle Rodrigues. “In order to deal with stress, women can befriend female peers.”
Maintaining close friendships
The researchers had 16 older women and 16 younger women participate in an experiment that focused on communication, friendship, and stress levels. The women were shown tangram puzzles and were then paired with either a stranger or a friend to discuss what images they saw on the puzzles.
Because each of the images was so abstract, each participant had to clearly explain their perspectives, and their partners had to try to understand where they were coming from. The researchers also measured the group’s cortisol levels to determine how stress impacted the outcomes.
Ultimately, the researchers learned that women tend to have lower stress levels when they have an opportunity to discuss things with their friends. Compared to talking with strangers about the tangram puzzles, talking through interpretations with friends was consistently linked with lower cortisol levels.
Interestingly, the researchers found that the older women had more success talking with and understanding strangers than younger women. Older women tended to talk more than younger women, and they were more likely to try to see their partner’s perspective.
Moving forward, the team hopes that more women understand the mental health benefits of keeping close relationships with their friends. While it’s enjoyable to make time to catch up and have meaningful conversations, it can also have long-term impacts on mental health and wellness.
“We can see that friendship has the same effect throughout the lifespan,” said Rodrigues. “Familiar partners and friends buffer stress, and that’s preserved with age.”