Hugs Protect against Conflict-Related Psychological Distress | Psychology

Alicia Farmer
October 5, 2018

Hugging can increase natural levels of oxytocin, a feel-good chemical that helps mothers and babies bond, said Stratyner, who wasn't involved with the study.

That powerful effect seemed to linger too: interviewees reported a generally positive mood the next day.

They followed 400 adults for two weeks for the study. It's also pretty reassuring the person you're sharing a hug with doesn't hate you.

Previously, psychologists have proposed that interpersonal touch may protect people from the consequences of psychological stress, particularly stress from interpersonal conflict. And hugs might have a leg up even in this category: Research also suggests that physical touch can prompt beneficial physiological changes, such as reductions in stress-related brain and heart activity and the release of the mood-enhancing hormone oxytocin, Murphy says. If that accumulates, it can put someone at risk psychiatric illnesses and suicide.

In the new study, Murphy and colleagues focused on hugs - a relatively common support behavior that individuals engage in with a wide range of social partners.

They found those who received an embrace on the day of a quarrel took a smaller hit to their positive emotions than those who did not get one.

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Murphy and Stratyner agreed that people can likely tell the difference between a heartfelt hug and a more perfunctory one.

'Receiving a hug on the day of conflict was associated with improved concurrent negative and positive affect and improved next day negative affect compared to days when conflict occurred but no hug was received'.

Experts have proven to improve the mood of both parties to the conflict can hug them. Large sample findings suggests that hugs may be a simple, free, and effective method of providing support to those experiencing interpersonal distress.

In the Carnegie Mellon study, both men and women benefited equally from hugs.

"This research is in its early stages", co-author Michael Murphy said. Each person was asked about their mood, whether they had experienced conflict and if they had received a hug that day, among other questions.

'However, our study suggests that consensual hugs might be useful for showing support to somebody enduring relationship conflict'.

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