benefits of hugging

Published in PLOS ONE, researchers recently examined the benefits of hugging, especially among people who experience conflict.

Touch increases communication, conflict resolution, and leads to higher satisfaction in relationships. The importance of non-sexual interpersonal touch is emerging as a vital topic in the study of adult relationships. There are a number of touch behaviours that are used to convey affection and the benefits of hugging are of particular interest. While much research has broadly linked interpersonal touch as a stress buffer, its role specific to interpersonal conflict merits research.

A recent study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, United States showed that receiving hugs helps with conflict and negative emotions. The study was published in PLOS ONE.

For the study, researchers interviewed 404 adult men and women for 14 consecutive days regarding their conflicts, the hugs they receive, and any positive and negative effects. The aim of the study was to determine if conflict-related distress was lesser when people hug each other.  It also looked at the gender differences in how hugs connect to conflict-related changes in emotions.

The hypothesis at the beginning is that people who had interpersonal conflicts would have more negative emotions and less positive emotions on the same day and the next day. Conflicts were linked independently with greater negative emotions and less positive emotions. The benefits of hugging on the day of a conflict were seen to improve concurrent positive and negative emotions.

They also found improved negative emotions the next day, compared to days when there was no hugging. Thus the effect of hugs did linger as shown by the improved measurements of negative mood the next day.

These findings are in line with the hypothesis that hugs protect against emotions experienced during the interpersonal conflict. Research on how this occurs and the mechanisms underlying it is not clear, and this is an area that certainly merits further investigation.  However, the findings gathered from a large community of individuals does indicate hugs are a very simple means of providing support to both men and women emotionally as they experience interpersonal distress.

While these findings are important, they are still in their early stages.  Limitations of the study include participants who were not asked who they had the conflict with and who they received the hugs from. The researchers also did not look at the order in which conflict and hugs occurred in a given day. This lack of specificity leads to a question of whether the benefits of hugging were a direct response to conflict and hence a buffer, or whether hugs from specific social partners were more effective.

The study still is important in that it is done on a naturalistic community sample which shows the benefits of hugging are an important means to support both men and women experiencing conflict.

Written by Sonia Leslie Fernandez, Medical News Writer

Reference”: Murphy, M. L., Janicki-Deverts, D., & Cohen, S. (2018). Receiving a hug is associated with the attenuation of negative mood that occurs on days with interpersonal conflict. PloS one13(10), e0203522.

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