Human beings are social by nature. The social aspect, however, does not end only with conversations and spending time with each other. The aspect of touch plays a major role when it comes to forming relationships with another person.
Touch is as important a tool for communication as words are for human beings. We all crave the feeling of another person’s palm in ours, a kiss on our cheeks, or an arm around our shoulders. Different types of consensual touch can represent happiness, comfort, support, and care.
But the most satisfying of all touches is definitely a comforting hug. Depending on your emotional state, this simple, loving gesture can truly change the way you feel. A strong hug when you are in tears can calm your soul while hugging when you are ecstatic can elevate your joy further.
Needless to say, a hug is essential for our emotional well-being. But is there a scientific basis for this fundamental human act? Let us dig deeper to understand.
In This Article
What Is A Hug?
Wrapping your arms around another person’s body can be defined as a hug. There are several variations of how a person hugs â right from a tight hug with arms completely wrapped around another person’s body to a side hug with an arm thrown over the other person’s shoulder.
A hug can manifest in different ways in different cultures. While some might have strict rules about hugging in public, others may see it as a way of social greeting. For example, in Portugal and Brazil, men often hug each other in greeting or saying goodbye. In many South Asian cultures, this tactile behavior between men is quite common and acceptable. It is, in fact, seen as a sign of brotherhood and camaraderie.
However, in many Arabic or South-East Asian cultures, unrelated or unmarried people hugging might be viewed as immoral and unacceptable.
Among teenagers in the United States, hugging is a common form of saying hello or goodbye.
Despite the cultural differences, the truth remains that hugging is a common human action whether done in public or private. Let us explore the different types of hugs prevalent across cultures.
Different Types Of Hugs
People do not hug each other only when they are in love. The different types of hugs also vary based on the relationship between the two people. The way you hug your partner might not be the same as the hug that you share with your parents or your best friends. The most common types of hugs are as follows:
1. The Tight Hug
A tight hug or a squeeze is common between people who share a lot of love for each other. Whether the duration of this hug is long or short, a squeeze often expresses affection and fondness for the other person.
While this is a common form of hugging among partners, you might also experience this with close friends and family members you are especially comfortable with. It is an extremely intimate hug that you would barely ever share with strangers you do not trust.
2. The Bear Hug
Much like the tight hug, the bear hug is also commonly seen between partners and friends. It is a sweet hug that often shows that the two people hugging trust each other and feel safe with the other.
In a bear hug, you wrap your arms around another person, resting your face on their chest or shoulders, and feel relaxed and happy. This type of comforting hug is not necessarily romantic but can be a way of expressing intimacy and care.
3. The Long Hug
A long and strong hug is often an expression of protection, love, and tenderness. You would share this with your close family, friends, and partner, but it is not absolutely out of place to share it with a stranger who might be a comforting presence in a certain situation.
4. The Back Hug
This might be a hug that is exclusively shared between partners. It shows a certain level of trust and care only common among two people in love with each other. A back hug is especially intimate because you are trusting the other person to care for you while not being able to see them.
The back hug is also often referred to as the naughty hug for the reason you would not entirely know who is hugging from behind. Nevertheless, it is an extremely personal and close iteration of a hug.
5. The Side Hug
A side hug is when you put your arms around another person’s shoulder in a gesture that is similar to a full-blown hug but still has some distance between the bodies. The side hug is less intimate or romantic and is often shared between friends and acquaintances.
It is common to side hug each other in greeting as well as while posing for photographs. It is not necessarily seen as a hug that expresses a certain type of emotion for another person.
Whatever be the type of a hug, the act of hugging has several wonderful benefits. Let us find out what they are!
Advantages Of Hugging
Besides being a wonderful gesture, hugs also have several real benefits that are both physical and psychological. Hugging keeps us healthier and happier in the five following ways.
1. Hugs Reduce Stress
Hugs are incredible ways of relieving stress. If someone you love is stressed out, they most likely need a hug. When you show a person your support and care through touch, it can automatically reduce their feeling of discomfort or pain.
The act of hugging another person can make the person giving a hug feel better too. In a study, 20 heterosexual men were given electric shocks while their female partners held their arms (1). During the experiment, women’s stress receptors showed reduced activity while the part of their brain associated with maternal behavior showed increased activity. The response to hugging is deemed to be similar to the responses seen in this study.
2. Hugs Can Keep You From Falling Sick
In a study, researchers found that among the 400 participants, those who had a stronger support system and received more hugs had lower chances of falling sick (2).
Additionally, those who did fall sick showed less severe symptoms when their support system was larger and more present. This benefit can also be related to the stress-reducing effect of a good, loving hug.
3. Hugs Can Keep Your Heart Healthier
In another study, the participants were divided into two groups. One group of partners held hands for 10 minutes, followed by a 20-second hug. The second group sat in silence for 10 minutes and then for another 20 seconds.
When both groups were given a public speaking task after this activity, the partners from the first group showed lower blood pressure and a lower increase in heart rate than those from the second group (3).
This was comparable among men and women â bringing us to the conclusion that hugging can help you function better in stressful situations while keeping your heart in better health.
4. Hugs Make You Happier
Biologically, hugs can increase the release of a hormone called oxytocin (4). Known by several aliases such as the love hormone or the cuddle chemical, oxytocin is released when you sit close to someone you love, or touch or hug them.
This hormone is associated with less stress and more happiness. It reduces the stress hormone nor-epinephrine while reducing your blood pressure. Some animal studies show that it also releases serotonin, known as the “happy hormone,” which elevates your mood and dispels feelings of anger and loneliness (5).
5. Hugs Are Responsible For A Higher Self Esteem
When you were a child, hugs often came to mean love, affection, respect, and validation. Therefore, from an early age, we associated tactile expressions of love with our self-worth.
As adults, whenever we receive hugs from our loved ones, they add to our feeling of self-worth. This, in turn, helps us maintain a higher sense of self-esteem and confidence in our daily lives.
With all these myriad benefits of hugging, we must ask the question â how many hugs do we need a day?
How Many Hugs Do We Need In A Day?
Famous family therapist Virginia Satir is often quoted as saying that we need 12 hugs a day. In fact, given that hugging has so many valuable benefits, we need to get as many of them as possible.
However, at least four hugs a day are important to keep us feeling good about ourselves, ward off stress, and stay healthy both physically and mentally. On a normal day, you should not settle for less than eight hugs!
To Wrap Up
Hugs are essential for our survival as human beings. In a society that is increasingly stressful and impersonal, hugs from our loved ones are needed to keep us going through the worst and the best experiences of our lives.
So, if you are feeling lonely or just want to feel loved and cared for on any day, do not be shy to tell your loved ones that you need a hug!
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- Neural correlates of giving support to a loved one,
- Does hugging provide stress-buffering social support? A study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness,
- Warm partner contact is related to lower cardiovascular reactivity,
- More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women,
- Organizational effects of oxytocin on serotonin innervation,