When it comes to books and movies about true female friendship (the kind that are honest and transcend the boundaries of time and space), we’re set for the next century. But when it comes to discussing the friendships between men–those that are close and loving–pop culture tends to wink and laugh a little because guys aren’t supposed to show their feelings, right? Sure, there’s Turk and J.D. on Scrubs, Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott in Role Models [most underrated comedy of the 2000s -ed], and Paul Rudd (always Paul Rudd) and Jason Segel in I Love You, Man, but what about movies about all those other dudes who have long-lasting friendships that are cool and not weird (or weird in a cool way)? Well, maybe they’ll get their shot, thanks to a new study suggesting that a bromance might actually save your life. (Or at least make your life longer, which is just as good.)
According to new research (soon to be published in Neuropsychopharmacology), close friendships between two males–like those between romantic partners–may actually reduce stress and reduce the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. That’s because bonding with others produces more oxytocin–the chemical responsible for all those warm fuzzy feelings you get–and researchers are now finding that it extends to non-romantic male pairings. Using male rats as an experimental group, researchers found that pairs who live together (and experience some stress) are able to be more social, cooperate better, and may even live longer and healthier lives. That flies in the face of research that suggests that males of any animal species are generally aggressive towards each other.
“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.”
In order to assess what effects positive male socialization had on the rats, researchers subjected them to stress and then watched how the animals reacted. What they found is that those who had developed connections with each other were able to cope better and even share resources. In short, mild stress brought them together and then (due to the rise of oxytocin) made them even more resilient and open to pro-social behavior (that means they didn’t fight over food and water).
What effect could this have on humans? If oxytocin really is an important component of dealing with stress, especially after a potentially traumatic event, then scientists may soon be developing new ways to incorporate the chemical in treatment. And if Kirby and her fellow researchers continue studying male rat pairs to determine how they connect, perhaps we’ll move into a golden age of bromances and, more importantly, a renaissance period of dudes being dudes with each other without being apologetic about it or worrying about being stigmatized about that behavior. (Well, as long as none of those dudes are rocking man-buns. Those are unforgivable.)