Who doesn’t love hugs? We’re all aware of their magic. Receiving hugs gives us the warmth we need when we are feeling sad, and giving hugs at times of happiness can almost double the joy.
Now, there is science to back our experience. Researchers from the Department of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University have found that receiving a hug is associated with the attenuation of negative mood that occurs on days with interpersonal conflict.
The study defines interpersonal touch as touch behaviors (e.g., hugging and holding hands) that are used to communicate affection or are generally thought to indicate affection.
Considerable evidence exists to suggest that individuals who engage more frequently in interpersonal touch enjoy better physical, psychological and relational health, by acting as a stress-buffer.
The recent study, published in PLOS ONE, used a sample of 404 adults who were interviewed every night for fourteen consecutive days about the conflicts, hug receipt and positive and negative effect.
Conflicts are independently associated with greater concurrent negative affect and lesser concurrent positive affect. An interaction between receiving hugs and conflict exposure was observed such that the former was associated with a smaller conflict-induced decrease in positive emotions and a smaller conflict-related increase in negative emotions.
Associations between hug receipt and conflict-related changes in mood did not differ between women and men, between individuals who were married and those who were not, or as a function of individual differences in baseline perceived social support.
While correlational, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that hugs buffer against deleterious changes in affect associated with experiencing interpersonal conflict.
As reported in the CNN, Michael Murphy, the author of the study and a postdoctoral research associate at the Department of Pyschology at Carnegie Mellon, believed that there is scope for further research to reveal whether the source of the hug made a difference in the resultant emotional effect on the receiver.
"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." - Michael Murphy
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