Hug It Out: Study Shows Hugs Really Do Make Us Happier, Especially On Hard Days

PITTSBURGH — In a spat with a loved one and can’t reach a resolution? Hug it out. A new study finds that hugs shield us from the harmful effects of a soured mood that come from arguments and conflicts with others.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University say people who consider themselves huggers actually have better overall health and stronger relationships. Previous research has shown the benefits of hugs and the role of touch, but studies have typically focused on romantic relationships. This latest work sought to examine the power of hugging among various social circles.

For the study, the authors analyzed data of 404 men and women between the ages of 21 and 55 from the Pittsburgh area. Only a quarter of the individuals were either married or in marital-like relationships. Participants, who were all in good general health, were interviewed every night for two weeks about their interactions with others each day. That meant describing such things as social activities, conflicts, resolutions, and of course, hugs. Individuals were also asked about their mood and any changes as the day wore on.

The researchers found that people who received a hug on the same day of experiencing a conflict with another person showed a smaller decrease in positive emotions and a smaller increase in negative emotions compared with individuals who were not hugged. In other words, being hugged at some point in the day may have shielded one’s good mood from diminishing completely, and similarly, prevented them from feeling more upset about a conflict. In fact, hugs were shown to help reduce bad moods in participants through the following day, as well.

Of course, the authors point to several limitations from the study in drawing the connections. For example, participants weren’t asked who they received their hugs from, or whether or not the hug was received before or after a conflict, which could perhaps play a role in the effectiveness of the hug.

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“This research is in its early stages. We still have questions about when, how, and for whom hugs are most helpful,” says Michael Murphy, one of the study’s co-authors, in a statement. “However, our study suggests that consensual hugs might be useful for showing support to somebody enduring relationship conflict.”

Murphy and his co-authors say that future research is needed to better understand how, why, and even when hugging is so effective. Still, they believe their results show the potential power of a hug on harder days: “[H]ugs may be a simple yet effective method of providing support to both men and women experiencing interpersonal distress,” they conclude.

The full study was published on October 3, 2018 in the journal PLOS One.