Hugs Come With Health Benefits — but There's a Catch

Oct 4, 2018 at 12:57 p.m. ET
Two Black women hugging on a colorful geometric background
Image: Filipefrazao/Getty Images.

When it comes down to it, you're either a hug person or someone who tolerates them. Hugging is a pretty intimate act — after all, you're wrapping your arms around another person and allowing them close to your body. They are certainly not everyone's cup of tea, but according to a new study, hugs do come with some health benefits.

The research, published in the journal PLOS One, found that hugs can lessen the psychological blow of an interpersonal conflict. Given the stress that comes along with a conflict, it can also mean physical or emotional discomfort, so any way to minimize that — like with a hug — can be helpful.

The authors note that the connection between touch and well-being has been known for a while, but previous research focused exclusively on romantic relationships. But this study looked at hugs in general from a wide range of social partners. 

The researchers surveyed 404 participants every night for two weeks about their conflicts, hugs they're received and their good and bad moods. They noticed that people who reporting getting a hug on the day of a conflict had a smaller decrease in positive emotion and a smaller increase in negative emotion than those who weren't hugged. 

Basically, more research is needed in this area, but the authors came to the preliminary conclusion that hugs could be a good way of providing support after a conflict. 

"This research is in its early stages. We still have questions about when, how, and for whom hugs are most helpful," Dr. Michael Murphy of Carnegie Mellon University, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement. "However, our study suggests that consensual hugs might be useful for showing support to somebody enduring relationship conflict."

But before you go off hugging your coworkers or acquaintances or literally anyone else, please remember that this isn't carte blanche to touch anyone you want. Hugging, like any of type of touching, should be consensual. Also, be mindful that there are plenty of people out there who don't like to be hugged — not by their partner, not by their parents and definitely not by some stranger they just met at a work event. 

So while this particular study found that hugs can be beneficial after conflict, don't forget that the hug itself could be a negative experience for someone. Like anything else: Ask before you touch. 

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