A number of studies have found that social support can reduce anxiety and depression. One study even found that a lack of social support was associated with a 26% increased risk of mortality. Given this, it would make sense that hugs would improve health, but could they even reduce the risk of illness?
Can Hugs Reduce Illness?:
One study questioned 404 participants on conflict experienced, social support and frequency of hugging on 14 consecutive nights. That’s when it gets crazy. Afterwards each participant was exposed to a cold virus and then quarantined while they were assessed for signs of infection and illness. While participants were paid $1,000 to participate, it’s surprising that the study was even conducted. Nevertheless, it led to some interesting results. The researchers found that 78% of participants became infected with the virus. Hugs were reported on 67.9% of interviewed days. More interestingly, being hugged frequently was associated with a reduced risk of becoming infected. For those who were not hugged often, the more conflict they experienced the greater the risk of infection. For those who were hugged often, conflict was unrelated to infection. Frequency of hugging was also associated with less severe symptoms among participants who were infected. Specifically, hugs were associated with a 25% reduction in nasal clearance time.
Why does this occur? The lead researcher said:
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, people who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection and illness-related symptoms.
Social support products against stress and illness. Making a point to give out a few more hugs should protect you from illness. So, get to it!
Cohen, Sheldon, et al. “Does hugging provide stress-buffering social support? A study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness.” Psychological science 26.2 (2015): 135-147.
Holt-Lunstad, Julianne, et al. “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality A Meta-Analytic Review.” Perspectives on Psychological Science10.2 (2015): 227-237.