Under the Hood

Hug Therapy? Gesture Is A Mood Enhancer

Consensual hugging might not only make a good day better but also help reduce negative feelings after being exposed to conflict, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania.

The study titled "Receiving a hug is associated with the attenuation of negative mood that occurs on days with interpersonal conflict" was published in PLOS ONE on Oct. 3.

Increasingly, health research has begun exploring the impact on non-sexual interpersonal touch. For instance, one study published earlier this year suggested how the act of hand-holding could provide pain relief, reducing the intensity by around 34 percent.

The new study from Carnegie Mellon explored the potential therapeutic effect of a hug. More than 400 people were recruited by the researchers and tracked for over a fortnight. At the start of the study, each person underwent a physical exam and answered questions regarding their health and their social network.

Then, over the next two weeks or so, each person would provide a daily summary of their activities, their mood, their interactions, any bad experiences or conflicts, and whether they received a hug.

The findings showed a person would experience more positive feelings on the days when they received a hug, even if they had been in a fight or had some kind of argument on that day. While factors like age and gender did not show much influence on the effects of a hug, women reported a higher number of hugs than men overall.

"A very simple, straightforward behavior — hugging — might be an effective way of supporting both men and women who are experiencing conflict in their relationships," said co-author Michael Murphy, a postdoctoral research associate at the Department of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University.

Moreover, the beneficial association persisted regardless of whether the people hugging were romantically involved at the time of the hug. The nature of the relationship between the giver and the receiver of a hug, the researchers said, should be explored in more detail.

"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," they explained in the paper. 

Future studies can consider looking for differences by categorizing huggers as an acquaintance, a stranger, a parent or sibling, a close friend, or a romantic partner. In fact, the impact of these could also be compared to being hugged by the person whom the participant was engaged in a conflict with. 

"Hugs, at least among close others, might be a simple, straightforward, effective way to show support to someone you care about who is experiencing conflict with a relationship in their life," Murphy concluded.

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