Hugging can help prevent a cold virus or lessen symptoms in people who are already sick, according to a recent study published in Psychological Science.
We're told to avoid sweaty, germy handshakes during cold and flu season, but the warm embrace of a close friend or loved one may actually improve immune system functioning, says Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University and lead author of the study.
Infants deprived of touch typically experience developmental delays. Their growth is often impaired, as is their cognitive development. Rates of serious infections and attachment disorders also increase in children who have been deprived of this apparently innate need.
This might be construed as a benefit more of maternal contact than touch, but even studies on nurses giving infant massage show the babies benefit from touch, even when its from a stranger (they have increased weight gain and earlier discharge from the hospital, for starters).
Even nonhuman primates may spend up to 20 percent of their day grooming each other. We are born with this need for touch, but many of us are now touch deprived. One study found that people in France touch each other an average of 110 times per hour during conversation. In the US, that dropped to two times and in England, zero.
As for hugs, perhaps the Holy Grail of …
Participants who reported having greater social support while experiencing conflicts were less likely to be infected by the cold virus. Researchers believe hugs were responsible for a full third of the protective effect. The group with greater social support who became ill, reported less symptoms than people with little to no social support.
While the study is not conclusive, Cohen writes, “The apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioral indicator of support and intimacy. Either way, those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection.”
Researchers can’t say with 100% certainty that a hug a day keeps infection away, but it definitely seems to be a contributing factor to keeping us healthy.
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