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(CNN)You have a big test, a difficult conversation or a stressful day ahead -- how much of a difference could a hug from your partner make on your state of mind?
A hug can make a big difference for women, according to a new study. Unfortunately, the effect is not as powerful when it comes to men.
Researchers analyzed how 76 people responded to stress after a hug from a romantic partner in a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One. Women who got to hug their significant other showed a decrease in the production of cortisol -- a stress hormone -- compared with those who did not.
Cortisol can have an impact on memory recall, which could make the stressful task ahead even more difficult, said senior study author Julian Packheiser, a postdoctoral researcher with the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience.
Men didn't seem to get that same perk, according to the study.
The study had a small sample size, but it's expertly done and adds to a solid body of science, said Kory Floyd, professor of communication at The University of Arizona. Floyd was not involved in the study.
It's no surprise that touch helps with the body's regulation, Packheiser said.
Affection with someone you love releases a neurotransmitter called oxytocin, often called the "love hormone," which reduces cortisol levels. This response, paired with social support, buffers against stress, according to the study.
And other studies have looked at the benefits of longer contact, like a massage, on physical stress responses from the endocrine system, which regulates the release of hormones, and sympathetic nervous system, which drives the body's quick "fight-or-flight" response to stressful situations. But this research offers scientific evidence of a more immediately gratifying option.
A massage is not always feasible. "A hug on the other hand is quickly applied and can thus help in buffering against future stressors," he wrote in an email.