Hugs, why do they comfort us?

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How does it feel to share a hug? Why hugs comfort us? Science has studied its effects, evidencing along the way some very interesting ones.

Surely, at some point of anguish, stress or pain, a hug has comforted you . But why can such a seemingly simple gesture bring us so much relief? Why hugs comfort us?

The truth is that a hug is much more than a hug; It is a show of love and affection, a “here I am”, where words are not necessary. And that (the human warmth, the contact with the other…) makes us feel good. We analyze some of the reasons that explain why this type of non-verbal language makes us feel so good, according to science.

“If you find a person like that, someone you can hug and with whom you can close your eyes to everything else, you can consider yourself very lucky. Even if it only lasts a minute, or a day.”

-Patrick Rothfuss-

Why hugs make us feel good

An old proverb says that  “a kiss without a hug is like a flower without the fragrance”. And it is that, in a hug, many things are said without speaking, it is the essence of an emotion that we want to transmit, like the fragrance of that flower. But what is it about hugs that we like so much?

Hugs transmit calm and make us feel safer.

  1. They help overcome conflicts

According to a 2018 study carried out by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh (United States), published in the journal PLOS One , hugs would be one of the social gestures that would most comfort us in the face of negative emotions .

For their study, the researchers interviewed 404 adults (218 men and 186 women) for 14 days. The results showed that when a person comes into conflict with another, if they received a hug that same day, their emotional state does not worsen as much as in the case of not receiving any.

What that hug does is not increase the negative feelings and not decrease the positive ones so much. And these results were observed in both men and women (although women reported having been hugged more days than men).

  1. They transmit calm

Another reason why hugs comfort us is because they give us calm and calm. It is a very powerful non-verbal form of communication ; and in that hug we can feel the human warmth, the physical contact, the bond with the other materializing. All this helps us feel safe and calm.

  1. They produce pleasure

In a 2021 study by researchers at the University of London and published in the journal Acta Psychologica , participants were found to experience pleasure after being hugged. Furthermore, the authors suggested that hugging could influence arousal for a short period of time.

  1. They favor the regulation of blood pressure

On the other hand, when we hug someone and really feel that hug, we release oxytocin , that hormone in charge of making us feel pleasure, among other functions. Oxytocin causes blood pressure to regulate. So hugs comfort us emotionally, but they also regulate us on a physical level (which in turn has an impact on our well-being).

  1. They help to strengthen ties

Another explanation for why hugs comfort us is because they are a way to strengthen ties, to enhance trust between two people. When feeling this effect, it is logical that we feel good.

In the end, we are sociable beings; we seek and need others . And if we find that correspondence, that presence in the other, this brings us well-being and human warmth.

  1. They make us feel more secure

Finally, when we are hugged (or hugged), in addition to strengthening that emotional bond with the other, we also strengthen it on a physical level. That is, we feel protected, safe, welcomed, in the body of the other (and more if we give it to someone physically bigger than us).

This feeling of refuge inevitably arises from contact with another body ; and the feeling is enhanced if the hug is given to us by someone who cares for us and loves us, who is important to us.

Hugs can mitigate the negative emotions of the people who receive them and who feel bad.

The perfect hug, according to science

As a curiosity, the aforementioned study from the University of London also tried to characterize the perfect hug. Study participants rated hugs of less than 1 second as “less pleasant”; instead, the “best” hugs were those that lasted between 5 and 10 seconds, according to them. They defined the latter as “hugs that are more pleasant than 1-second hugs.”

Other factors, such as proximity and height, were not relevant to the participants and did not condition their idea of ​​a better or worse hug . Of course, the participants had a similar height, and therefore the researchers assumed that the “neck-waist” hug could be the most common when the heights are different. Be that as it may, surely what matters in hugs is how they make us feel, what they transmit to us.

And for you, what is the perfect hug? Did you know the benefits of hugs?



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