Research Reveals The Act Of Hugging Can Boost Mental Health

Both scientific research and spiritual leaders agree that smiles have a magic power in boosting both your own mood and those of the people around you by opening the neural passages that benefit your health and happiness.

So, the power of the smile is there, but is there power in something even more tangible and intimate? How about a hug? Does a hug have its own superpowers? Researchers seem to think so.

The Super Power Of A Hug

Someone’s having a rough day or seems sad somehow. Without thought, you reach over and give them a hug. It’s a natural inclination for many people, and it’s something that we often offer freely and without much thought about an effect. What are the effects of a hug, though?

A new study suggests that this simplistic act may have a much more profound impact than most people imagine.

PLOS One recently published this research that measured the impact non-sexual hugs have on mood and stress following interpersonal and social conflicts. Researchers found that such hugs reduced negative emotions and increased positive emotions during days that they suffer conflict. 

Co-author of the study and researcher at Carnegie Mellon University’s Laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity, and Disease Michael Murphy explained to Time Magazine,

“A very simple, straightforward behavior — hugging — might be an effective way of supporting both men and women who are experiencing conflict in their relationships.”

Over 400 male and female adults began the study with a physical exam and health and social questionnaire. They were interviewed nightly for a period of two weeks by the researchers. Each participant was asked mood-related questions, to detail their daily experiences related to conflict, and whether or not they’d received a hug that day.

The findings of the study showed that hugs do matter. Those who didn’t experience a hug during the day were associated with an increase in negative emotions and a decline in positive mood markers. Those who did experience a hug during the day had an uptick in positive mood markers and a downturn in negative emotions.

Those who experienced both relationship conflict and hugs reported more positive and less negative emotions on the days with hugs than the days without them. 

The above results remained accurate regardless of the participant’s sex, age, relationship status, ethnic group, average mood, and amount of social interaction. While the negative feelings raised more than the positive uptick, the study found that the effects of hugs even transfer over to the following day.

How Do Hugs Have Such A Huge Impact?

The crux of the study might be simplified to social support making you feel better in times of crisis or conflict. Murphy is quick, however, to point out that there’s conflicting scientific backing for this specific thought. Some studies have concluded that reactions to stress are better in cases where the person feels they have a strong, supportive, and loving social network.

Yet, other studies have shown that those receiving family and friend social support during crisis or conflict actually end up with a worsened situation from feeling judged, criticized, incompetent, or by the support group inadvertently encouraging counterproductive behaviors.

More implied shows of support like physical touch or doing something nice for someone might be better because they “make people feel like they’re cared about, that they have someone who’s there for them, but that doesn’t make any judgments,” Murphy said to Time

What If Someone Just Doesn’t Like Hugs?

You may be one of the many people who just don’t like hugs. Science shows a plethora of rationales behind non-huggers delving into if the non-huggers were raised in an environment where physical touch and hugging were avoided. The Emily Post Institute, an organization devoted to etiquette says, "Unless you know someone quite well, skip the hug in business settings. You might be comfortable with it, but not everyone else."

The conclusion of this study, however, is that the results, although not all-encompassing, are solid enough to encourage people to reach out and hug those they see struggling as a show of support that may not be as prone to misinterpretation as verbal shows of support.

What do you think about these new findings? Do you tend to hug a lot? Let us know in the comments  and don't forget to show this to your friends and family!

Our content is created to the best of our knowledge, yet it is of general nature and cannot in any way substitute an individual consultation by your doctor. Your health is important to us!