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The Surprising Benefits of the "Bromance"

Male bonding can make guys healthier, happier, and better dads as well.

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Whether it's a movie starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, or it's Joey and Chandler from Friends, Hollywood tends to portray male friendships in a comedic light. But a good "bromance" makes for more than just bachelor parties and fist bumps.

The Health Benefits of Male Friendship

A new study which appeared in Neuropsychopharmacology highlights the benefits of male friendship. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, studied how friendship affects male rats. When housed together, male rats frequently displayed aggression toward one another. They often fought over food and water. After experiencing mild stress, however, the rats became more cooperative and increasingly social. They stopped fighting and they treated each other in a much more civil manner. They huddled together and sought comfort from one another. Huddling with the other rates led to increased oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin, also known as the "feel-good hormone," appeared to help the rats cope with stress.

The researchers concluded that a good bromance will release oxytocin in the human brain as well—and increased oxytocin can help men live longer, healthier lives. (Although some also refer to oxytocin as "the love hormone," emotionally intense platonic relationships also increase oxytocin.)

Here are just a few benefits men gain from increased oxytocin in the brain:

  • Pain relief. Oxytocin has been associated with decreased pain and improved healing speed. Studies show it can even raise your pain threshold.
  • Lower cortisol levels. Cortisol, the stress hormone, can have harmful effects on your body, ranging from increased abdominal fat to decreased immunity. Studies show oxytocin reduces the amount of cortisol that releases in response to stressful situations.
  • Increased generosity. Oxytocin has been shown to boost altruism. In one study, participants who received oxytocin were 80% more generous than others who received a placebo.

Why Women Should Encourage Bromance

Some wives and girlfriends may be tempted to complain about the amount of time a man spends with his friends, but a partner's bromances could actually lead to an improved romantic relationship: The oxytocin which releases when a man spends time with friends promotes social bonding with anyone perceived to be in the individual's "inner circle."

A 2012 study in Biological Psychiatry found that oxytocin could help fathers bond more with their babies: Dads who got a boost of oxytocin via a nasal spray played more closely with their babies than dads who didn't get the spray.

Oxytocin may also help men stay faithful to their partners. One study found that oxytocin led men in monogamous relationships to keep a greater distance between themselves and an attractive woman during an initial encounter. Researchers suspect this may be to avoid signaling romantic interest toward other women.

Male friendship won't just improve the quality of a man's life—it just might impact the length of it.

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This article first appeared on Inc.