Research proves that people who received social support like hugs have a decreased risk of infection.
Science finally confirmed what we've always known: Hugging is good. Sometimes, it's exactly what the doctor ordered.
Hugging is more than a friendly gesture: When researchers at Carnegie Mellon University exposed more than 400 people to a virus, those who received “social support,” including hugs, were less likely to get sick. “Being hugged more frequently was associated with a decreased risk of infection,” wrote the study's author, Dr. Sheldon Cohen.
What's more, hugging's benefits aren't restricted to times when we're anxious or need a lift. “In predicting infection, we found that hugs on nontension days were at least as important as those reported on tension days … suggest[ing] that those who regularly receive hugs are more protected than those who do not,” he wrote. That's because hugging indirectly boosts our levels of oxytocin, sometimes called the “bonding hormone,” which lowers our heart rate and blood pressure.
Carnegie Mellon isn't the only school finding the positive effects provided by hugs. A study at King's College in London found in 2015 that hugging lowers pain intensity because oxytocin releases other feel-good hormones, including serotonin and dopamine. Because it triggers production of those hormones, hugs also help tame anxiety and depression.
Hugging can even help us communicate, according to a study published in Emotion, a journal of the American Psychological Association. Simply touching or hugging someone can communicate a range of emotions, including anger, fear, gratitude or sympathy.
Got nobody to hug? No problem—hug your teddy bear, say researchers at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Hugging an inanimate object that comforts you, such as a stuffed toy, can boost your self-esteem, lower your fears and possibly ease your depression and anxiety.