Hugging Our Way to Health


During the winter months when seasonal sickness runs rampant, it’s tempting to want to lock ourselves away from others. After all it’s contact with other people and their germs that we’ve been warned against, right? And yet, it seems there may be a flaw to this no-touch policy. That’s because a new study published in Psychology Science points to hugs as a possible deterrent from the common cold. Yep! You heard that’s right. Hugging it out just took on a whole other meaning.

This warm and fuzzy notion began when scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, led by researcher Sheldon Cohen, came across past studies showing that people in constant conflict with their friends and family were more susceptible to colds and other such viruses. The question then became, what does that mean for the health of those with strong, healthy social contact and ties?

To find the answer to this, the scientists conducted a study. Mother Nature Network explains that,

…Cohen and his team recruited 404 healthy adults and asked them to complete a questionnaire that self-reported their level of stress as well as their perceived social support. They followed this up with telephone interviews on 14 consecutive nights to get a better understanding of each participant's interpersonal relationships as well as the number of hugs they gave and received each day. Finally, they intentionally exposed all of the participants to a common cold virus and monitored them in quarantine to assess them for signs of infection.”

What they found was that hugs were responsible for one third of the protective effect of social support. In other words, the participants in the study that received regular hugs from within their trusted social circle remained significantly healthier. Even within the group of participants that became sick, those that received more hugs in their daily life had less severe symptoms.

An article written for Carnegie Mellon News reports,

The results showed that perceived social support reduced the risk of infection associated with experiencing conflicts. Hugs were responsible for one-third of the protective effect of social support. Among infected participants, greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs both resulted in less severe illness symptoms whether or not they experienced conflicts.”

What remains unclear, says Cohen, is if the protective effect of hugging is caused by the physical contact itself or if it is because hugging acts as a behavioral indicator of support and intimacy. Either way, the answer is clear, if you want to remain healthy this winter, open your arms wide and snuggle up to the ones you love. Now that’s our kind of research!


Read all articles by Juniper Briggs

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