'Tis the season to be giving and receiving!
And no, I'm not talking about sex, although you wish I was. Actually, I'm talking about a recent UCLA study that shows providing support to a loved one offers health benefits to both the giver and the receiver. The study determined that a lot of the health benefits of social support actually come from the support we provide to others.
The scientists studied 20 heterosexual couples in stable relationships at UCLA's Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center. The women underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans while their boyfriends were just outside the scanner receiving painful electric shocks (honestly, who in their right mind would sign up for something like this?) At some points, the women were allowed to provide support by holding their boyfriends' arms, while at others, they had to watch them receive shocks without being able to do anything. Other times, the boyfriends did not receive a shock, and the women could choose whether or not to touch them. 17 Holiday Gifts Women Really Want
The study found that the more the women supported their boyfriends in pain, the more connected they felt to their boyfriends. No word though on whether the men in this study felt more connected to their girlfriends after the whole experiment.
In short, giving support is rewarding: "One of [the brain's reward-related] regions, the ventral striatum, is typically active in response to simple rewards like chocolate, sex and money," said Naomi Eisenberger, a UCLA assistant professor of psychology and the senior author of the study, which was published in the online edition of Psychosomatic Medicine, a peer-reviewed health psychology journal. "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."
When I was in my early twenties, I was a notorious "giver" — to the point where I didn't even know what it felt like to have someone return the gesture. I felt that the more I gave, the more the guy would like me and appreciate me. Looking back, it seems as though the more I gave, the more I pushed the guy away. Now that I'm in a steady relationship, I've learned that there has to be a balance of giving and receiving. If you really care about somebody, it shouldn't feel like a chore to give, nor should you feel guilty about receiving. And yes, my little reindeers, that goes for sex too.
Does it feel rewarding to "give" to your partner?