It's better to give than to receive, so they say, but who knew that there would be scientific evidence to support this theory? According to a new study published online in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, the more we give support to our loved ones, the better we feel.

Studying 20 young heterosexual couples in good relationships, the researchers tested the way the females of each pair would react while their boyfriends were given painful electric shocks. Sometimes, the women would be allowed to comfort their partners. At other times, they could only hold on to a stress ball. There were even moments when the men wouldn't be given electric shocks at all. Throughout the test, the authors used magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to observe any changes in the brain.

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Based on the results, women who were able to provide comfort to their boyfriends while they were being shocked showed more activity in parts of their brain that dealt with reward-related matters. "One of these regions, the ventral striatum, is typically active in response to simple rewards like chocolate, sex, and money," said Naomi Eisenberger, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and senior author of the study. "The fact that support-giving also activates this region suggests that support-giving may be processed by the brain as a very basic type of rewarding experience."

Not to be belittled, the researchers also found interesting activity in the brain's septal area which is mostly responsible for stress reduction. Could it be that by giving support to others, we are reducing stress as well? "Activity in the septal area during support-giving was negatively correlated with activity in the amygdala, which is a region known to play a role in fear and stress responses. If there is something about support-giving that leads to reductions in amygdala activity, this suggests that support-giving itself may have stress-reducing properties," explained Eisenberger.

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As strange as the findings sound, the researchers believe that the theory behind such reasoning stems from a more primal urge. As Eisenberger said, "Giving support to those we are close to, such as family members or children, may increase their likelihood of survival and, therefore, the likelihood that our genes will get passed on," she said. "Because of the importance of support-giving for the survival of our species, it is possible that over the course of our evolutionary history, support-giving may have become psychologically rewarding to ensure that this behavior persisted."


You can start showing others your support by being a good friend. Check out these articles for tips:

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(Photo by Mattox via sxc.hu)

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