Hug it out! A new study suggests that just reaching out and touching someone (hugging) can reduce bad feelings associated with the typical ups and downs of our social interactions.
The study from the Department of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, published this week in PLOS ONE, looked at the social interactions of more than 400 people over two weeks.
Co-author Michael Murphy, a post-doctoral researcher in Carnegie Mellon University’s Laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity and Disease, and his colleagues, interviewed 404 adults by phone every night. Each person was asked about their mood, whether they had experienced conflict and if they had received a hug that day, among other questions.
“Results indicated that there was an interaction between hug receipt and conflict exposure such that receiving a hug was associated with a smaller conflict-related decrease in positive affect and a smaller conflict-related increase in negative affect when assessed concurrently,” the study reads.
Yes it seems a cuddle seemed to increase positive feelings and reduce negative ones on days when people experienced relationship problems. The researchers found that simple hugs were associated with an uptick in positive mood markers and a reduction in negative ones, while the opposite was true of relationship conflict. On days when both happened, people tended to report fewer negative feelings and more positive ones than on days when they experienced the conflict but got no hugs.
This effect was seen across all genders and ages in the study, although women reported more hugs than men. Interestingly, it did not seem to matter if the huggers were in a romantic relationship at the time of said hug — the mood-related benefits still stood.
“The lack of specificity regarding from whom individuals received hugs also restricted our ability to identify whether hugs from specific types of social partners were more effective than those from others,” Murphy wrote.
“A very simple, straightforward behaviour – hugging – might be an effective way of supporting both men and women who are experiencing conflict in their relationships,” she explained.
While more research is needed to determine possible mechanisms, the findings from the large community sample suggest that hugs may be a simple yet effective method of providing support to both men and women experiencing interpersonal distress.