Some people are natural-born huggers, and it could be good for their health.
There are all sorts of reasons to wrap your arms around another human being, including to ease a bad day, to share excitement, to express love, or just because it's Thursday.
Scientists have long understood the benefits of hugging on lowering blood pressure, stress, and anxiety. However, a recent study published in Psychological Science suggests that there could be more implications to decreasing.
Hugging other people on a daily basis protects the immune system by reducing daily stress, resulting in getting sick less frequently.
"We know that people experiencing ongoing conflicts with others are less able to fight off cold viruses. We also know that people who report having social support are partly protected from the effects of stress on psychological states, such as depression and anxiety," lead author Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University said in a press release. "We tested whether perceptions of social support are equally effective in protecting us from stress-induced susceptibility to infection and also whether receiving hugs might partially account for those feelings of support and themselves protect a person against infection."
While it seems like hugging others often would expose an individual to all those different germs and increase illness, the researchers believe that the physical contact is enough to lower stress and allow the immune system to work better.
The study followed over 400 people who were asked to track number of hugs along with conflict they experienced on a day-to-day basis. After a period of two weeks, the participants were quarantined and exposed to the common cold. The researchers documented any and all signs of them getting sick. They ultimately found that those who hugged other people on a daily basis were better able to fight off the virus.
They ultimately found that those who hugged other people on a daily basis were better able to fight off the virus and avoid getting sick.
"This suggests that being hugged by a trusted person may act as an effective means of conveying support and that increasing the frequency of hugs might be an effective means of reducing the deleterious effects of stress," Cohen continued in the press release. "The apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioral indicator of support and intimacy. Either way, those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection."
Moving forward, the researchers could improve these conclusions by lengthening the study beyond just two weeks in order to get a more accurate representation of how hugging really bolsters the immune system.
Additionally, rather than have participants self-report the number of hugs experienced each day, they could have different groups do a certain amount of hugging each day, including one group that doesn't experience hugging at all. This would identify the lower and upper limit of hugs needed to see benefits to the immune system.
(H/T: Scientific American)
Cover image via iStock / Anna Elizabeth Photography.