The Benefits of Bromances: Male Friendships and Mental Health

If you’ve paid attention to pop culture in recent years, you might have come across the term “bromance.” For those not in the know, the word “bromance” is used to describe close friendships among men. While the term might sound fairly silly, science suggests that such relationships might be beneficial for men’s mental health.

A Bonding Exercise

The topic of “bromances” was recently explored by researchers from the the University of California, Berkeley. For their study, the UC Berkeley team did not use human subjects, but instead focused on interactions among male rats. These rodents were forcibly confined for a period of a few hours, after which they were released into situations designed to raise their stress levels.

Upon being exposed to stressful situations, the UC Berkeley team noticed that the rats exhibited noticeably high levels of cooperation. Specifically, the authors observed the following developments:

  • A willingness among the rodents to share a relatively small amount of water
  • A lack of aggression between the rats.
  • Stability via the establishment of a rank of dominance.
  • Notable increases in oxytocin, a hormone that is generally associated with positive emotional feelings.

Having documented the rats’ positive reactions to forced confinement, the researchers decided to subject the mice to an even greater stressor the smell of fox urine. Since foxes hunt rats, the rodents viewed the introduction of this smell as a highly traumatic event. Their reaction to this severe stressor was quite telling; instead of huddling together for support, the rats isolated themselves and displayed elevated levels of aggression.

Good to a Point

With all their research done, the UC Berkeley team concluded that strong male friendships can serve as a bulwark against stress, but not against major emotional trauma. In a press release detailing her team’s work, lead author Daniela Kaufer stated that “social interactions can buffer you against stress, but if a trauma is just too much and there
is PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], you actually withdraw from social interactions that can be supportive for you. People stop talking to their friends, they stop engaging in their social networks the way they used to… after a battle experience or a car accident.”

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