Embraceable you: Study finds that hugs make us happier

October 8, 2018

Have you ever felt as if you needed a hug? Now, there’s scientific evidence to show that, when your day is not going well, a hug can make a huge difference.

In fact, results of an investigation conducted by Carnegie Mellon University—and posted on October 4 on StudyFinds— indicate that people who “hug it out” after an argument are less likely to harbor bad feelings for the rest of the day.

The researchers   that people who consider themselves to be “huggers” actually enjoy better overall health and stronger relationships.

Previous research has shown the benefits of hugs—and the overall role of touch in promoting better mental and physical health—but such studies typically have focused on romantic relationships; while the latest probe sought to examine the power of hugging among various social circles.

For the study, the authors analyzed responses of 404 men and women between the ages of 21 and 55 who were in good health and lived in or near to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Only 25% of the participants were either married or had live-in romantic relationships.

Participants were interviewed every night for two weeks about their interactions with others each day. That meant describing such things as social activities, conflicts, resolutions, and of course, hugs. They also were asked about their mood and any changes as the day wore on.

The researchers found that people who got a hug after they had experienced a conflict showed a smaller decrease in positive emotions and a smaller increase in negative emotions, compared with individuals who were not hugged. In other words, being hugged at some point in the day may have helped them to keep a positive attitude—and, similarly, may have prevented them from feeling more upset about the conflict. In fact, hugs were shown to help reduce bad moods in participants through the following day, as well.

However, the authors identified several limitations of their study. For example, participants weren’t asked who they received their hugs from, or whether or not the hug was received before or after a conflict, which could perhaps play a role in the effectiveness of the hug.

“This research is in its early stages. We still have questions about when, how, and for whom hugs are most helpful,” admitted Michael Murphy, one of the study’s co-authors, in a press release.. “However, our study suggests that consensual hugs might be useful for showing support to somebody enduring relationship conflict.”

Murphy and his co-authors say that additional research is needed to better understand how, why, and even when hugging is so effective. Still, they believe their results show the potential power of a hug on harder days: “[H]ugs may be a simple yet effective method of providing support to both men and women experiencing interpersonal distress,” they conclude.

Research contact: michaelmurphy@cmu.edu

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