“Bromances” and stress

Close relationships provide social support that can help relieve stress. One type we don’t know much about is “bromances”—close friendships between two men—but how these help or hurt stress levels isn’t clear.

It’s hard to do scientific research on this topic with humans because it would involve intentionally stressing people out to see how they respond. Who would volunteer for that?! So instead, scientists who study human social behavior use rats, which have social behavior very similar to that of humans. To learn more about the impact of bromances on stress, they observed male rat “friendships” under stressful situations. Here’s what they found.

Under mildly stressful situations, male rats became more social and cooperative with other male rats, compared to when they weren’t stressed. The rats’ oxytocin levels increased. They touched and snuggled other male rats more. Under severely stressful situations though, the male rats’ behavior changed. They were no longer cooperative and became withdrawn, isolated, and aggressive.

Of course, people aren’t rats, and one research study is never a good foundation for reliable conclusions, often raising more questions than it answers. However, it can give us “food for thought.” One idea from this study is that bromances seem beneficial, depending on stress level. Your friendships with other guys might help keep mild stress at bay. So spending time with your fellow men just might help you feel calmer.

Yet in severely stressful situations, bromances didn’t serve the same purpose. The rats became disconnected and hostile. Could the same be true for male humans? We can’t say for sure, but men exposed to severely stressful situations that result in PTSD sometimes have similar reactions.

Looking for ways to beef up your own stress-management skills? Try HPRC’s tips to influence your stress and relaxation responses.