If someone has had a bad day or has suffered some kind of stressful conflict at work or day to day, just a good friend give him a big hug so that stress is reduced, as suggested by a new study published in Plos One.
A hug before you let off steam
A partner comes to let off steam with you: he has had a bad day. How can you comfort him? Inviting him to a beer? Letting me talk about the problem? Not bad, but maybe we should include a hug on the list.
It is what sustains Michael Murphy, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh: if people who receive hugs regularly can better manage stress and conflict.
Some researchers have argued that many of the behaviors we use to support other people who are stressed may be counterproductive because these behaviors may involuntarily communicate that those people are competent to manage stress.
Murphy and his team interviewed 404 men and women every night for two weeks. During these interviews, participants were asked a simple yes or no question, if someone had hugged them that day, and a simple question of whether or not they had experienced a conflict or tension with someone that day.
They were also asked questions about their social interactions, how many social interactions they had that day, and answered questions about positive and negative moods.
Similarly, the more often people hugged, the less likely they were to fall ill, even among people who often had tense interactions. In other words, both social support and hugs prevent the weakening of the immune system.
Interestingly, social support can be beneficial for both the donor and the recipient. Researchers at UCLA scanned the participants' brains while their partners received electric shocks with them. If the participants took their classmates' hands during the experiment, brain regions associated with fear attenuation were activated. This finding indicates that offering social support through physical contact allowed them to better face the stressful experience. Murphy does add this warning:
Our findings should not be taken as evidence that people should start hugging anyone who feels distressed. A hug from a boss at work or a stranger on the street can not be considered consensual or positive.