Although your partner may be a pain in the neck sometimes, being in a committed relationship may actually help reduce stress. Researchers from the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago found that when put in stressful situations, people in stable relationships demonstrated lower levels of stress than single folk. Moreover, single males exhibited higher testosterone levels than their paired-off counterparts.
The study consisted of 501 male and female MBA students between the ages of 23 and 36. The participants were instructed to play a 90-minute computer game that assessed financial-risk decisions in different economic scenarios. In order to increase the stress factor, the researchers warned the students that the game was a course requirement and their decisions would affect their future careers. Amplifying the anxiety further, researchers also allowed the participants to play for real money and, in a few scenarios, compete against one another.
The participants’ salivary testosterone and cortisol levels, the body’s best natural indicators of stress, were measured before the game, and again two hours after the game. Analysis of the data showed two important findings. Firstly, the single participants had significantly higher post-game salivary cortisol levels than married participants. Secondly, while there wasn’t much difference in salivary testosterone levels between the paired and single participants on the whole, single male participants had significantly higher post-game testosterone levels than the men in relationships.
Despite testing various psychological and physical characteristics to explain different reactions to stress among the participants, the researchers could only find one: relationship status. According to previous studies, social involvement and marital support reduce the physiological effects of stressful situations, which explains the comparatively lower cortisol levels of the committed participants. Another study reported similar results, finding that single mothers who felt unsupported suffered from higher levels of stress than married mothers.
As for the matter of finding higher testosterone among single men, researchers could not yet reach a conclusion. It is unclear whether men with more testosterone are less likely to commit, or if high testosterone levels are caused by a lack of commitment.