Male friendships, often mocked as “bromances” in movies, may have similar health effects as romantic relationships, especially when it comes to stress management, according to a new rat study.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, confirmed what past human studies have found: Social interactions increase the level of the hormone oxytocin in the brain, and oxytocin helps people bond and socialize. It also increases their resilience in the face of stress and has been found to lead to longer, healthier lives.

“A bromance can be a good thing,” said lead author Elizabeth Kirby, who started work on the study while a doctoral student at UC Berkeley and continued it after assuming a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford. “Males are getting a bad rap when you look at animal models of social interactions, because they are assumed to be instinctively aggressive. But even rats can have a good cuddle — essentially a male-male bromance — to help recover from a bad day.”

“Having friends is not un-masculine,” she added. “These rats are using their rat friendships to recover from what would otherwise be a negative experience. If rats can do it, men can do it too. And they definitely are, they just don’t get as much credit in the research for that.”

The research also provides insight for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said senior author Daniela Kaufer, a UC Berkeley associate professor of integrative biology and member of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.

“Social interactions can buffer you against stress, but if a trauma is just too much and there is PTSD, you actually withdraw from social interactions that can be supportive for you,” Kaufer said. “This research suggests that this might be happening through changes in oxytocin; that in the context of life-threatening stress, you lose its effect and you see less prosocial behavior. This really aligns well with what you see with pathological effects of stress on humans.”

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