This uniquely female response to stress has been found in many animal species, says study coauthor Laura Cousino Klein, Ph.D., now at Pennsylvania State University. In a related study, men coming home from a tough day at work were likely to hole themselves up or pick a fight, while stressed-out women were more likely to focus on caring for their children.
What's behind the gender difference? Oxytocin, a hormone that's released during stress as well as during breastfeeding and female orgasm. It calms the heart, decreases anxiety, and stimulates nurturing and socializing. Though the hormone rises in men and women under stress, it's higher in women -- and its power is amplified by estrogen. What's more, social bonding itself actually boosts oxytocin levels.
"We've known that spending time with friends makes us feel better," says Klein. "Now science gives us a solid reason to value and celebrate these connections." To enhance the effect: