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A Hug a Day Keep the Doctor Away

Stashed in: Hugs!, Life Hacks, Health Studies

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A study published earlier this month suggests that, in addition to making us feel connected with others, all those hugs may have prevented us from getting sick. At first, this finding probably seems counterintuitive (not to mention bizarre). You might think, like I did, that hugging hundreds of strangers would increase your exposure to germs and therefore the likelihood of falling ill. But the new research out of Carnegie Mellon indicates that feeling connected to others, especially through physical touch, protects us from stress-induced sickness. This research adds to a large amount of evidence for the positive influence of social support on health.

Social support can broadly be defined as the perception of meaningful relationships that serve as a psychological resource during tough times. More specifically, this means emotional support, such as expressions of compassion, and may include access to information or other assistance. The researchers measured social support by giving out a questionnaire in which participants rated different statements (e.g. “I feel that there is no one I can share my most private worries and fears with.”). Then, they conducted interviews every night for two weeks to find out how often participants experienced conflict with others and how often they received hugs. Finally, the researchers infected participants with a common cold virus and observed what happened.

Several interesting results emerged. Encouragingly, people overall had a strong sense of social support, as shown by a high median score on the questionnaire. Similarly, they were more likely to be hugged (which happened on an average of 68% of days during the two-week interview period) than to experience conflict (7% of days).

The most important results, however, were what the researchers deemed a “stress-buffering effect.” Keep in mind that interpersonal conflict can cause people a lot of stress and thereby weaken their immune systems. Yet regardless of how much conflict they endured, participants with a strong sense of social support developed less severe cold symptoms than those who felt socially deprived. Likewise, the more often people hugged, the less likely they were to get sick, even among individuals who frequently had tense interactions. In other words, both social support and hugging prevented against illness.

As long as you're not hugging someone with something contagious!

Note that the benefits of hugging also made it into Scientific American:

Oops! I missed that. Then again, based on the research, perhaps one could hug contagious people and not get sick! (Not that I plan to test it out any time soon...)

Yeah, I think it's okay to stick to the non-contagious people. :)

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