13 Studies That Prove You Should Hug More

Neve Spicer
Written by Neve Spicer Updated on December 7th, 2021

Whether you’re the one giving or receiving, a hug with someone you love feels great.

But here’s the kicker — hugging is more than touchy-feely stuff. It has psychological, physiological, and neurological benefits

Science corroborates what we already know, which is that hugging your kids (and your spouse) every day is legitimately good for you! Benefits run the gamut from mood improvement to tangible impacts on your body and brain.

Let’s dive in and learn more about the surprisingly positive impact of frequent embracing.

  • Be Covid safe. During the current Covid-19 pandemic, please make sure you strictly adhere to your local authority’s guidelines on social distancing. We encourage more hugging within your household or ‘support bubble’, not that you break social distancing rules in order to hug more. During this time of limited social contact, we advocate giving extra hugs to those whom you safely can!

The Infographic

Examining the evidence

Right, it’s time to dig into the scientific literature to see what studies have to say about hugging…

What neuroscientists say…

1) Helps kids get sleepy at bedtime

Tucking kids in at night often comes with the fervent wish that they’ll stay put and fall asleep soundly. It turns out that adding a few goodnight hugs to your bedtime routine will help the little ones relax more and become sleepy.

One study (on affectionate touch as a soothing influence) noted that oxytocin was released as a result of hugging.

This means that when you hug your child, the “love” hormone — also associated with calming and relaxation — is released. This may help prepare them for their slumber.

Key study/paper: Wang, Joanne Hui-Tzu. “A study on gross motor skills of preschool children.” Journal of research in childhood education (2004): 32-43.

Source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290532

2) Offers a serotonin boost to couples

Whether through problems at work, a car in the shop, or forgetting to drag the bins to the curb, parents face more than their fair share of stress and annoyance.

It always feels good to reconnect with your partner with an embrace, and as science has proven, it’s not just because you love them.

A study focusing specifically on the biological effects of hugs between romantic partners discovered that when you snuggle up with your number one honey, you’re both privy to a release of serotonin.

Healthy serotonin levels help to prevent depression and other mental illnesses, so this is a good way to bolster brain health.

Key study/paper: Light, Kathleen C., Karen M. Grewen, and Janet A. Amico. “More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women.” Biological psychology 69.1 (2005): 5-21.

Source: sciencedirect.com/science/article/S0301051104001632

3) Promotes brain development in infants

When you bring your new bundle of joy home from the hospital, nailing down their eating and sleeping routine is a top priority.

After that, many parents start to consider how to foster the best development possible for their newborn.

While mobiles and toys intended to catch attention and encourage cognitive and motor development begin to become effective after a few months, parents can enhance their baby’s brain development early through gentle cuddles and hugs.

A study of infant brain function has determined that touching of this kind can encourage the healthy growth of a baby’s brain.

Key study/paper: Maitre, Nathalie L., et al. “The dual nature of early-life experience on somatosensory processing in the human infant brain.” Current Biology 27.7 (2017): 1048-1054.
Source: cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(17)30204-X

What psychologists say…

4) Provides emotional comfort

There’s a reason that friends and loved ones offer a hug when we’re feeling low; it’s an instant pick-me-up that lets us know we’re loved and cared for.

Hugging our kids when they’re sad is a natural impulse, and one with biological benefits to back up the related good feelings.

Scientific study has shown that a flood of hormones tied to happiness — specifically, oxytocin and serotonin — are released when we give and receive hugs.

This means that hugging your little one when they’re feeling down is pulling double duty by positively impacting their brain chemistry.

Key study/paper: Takeuchi, Mika S., et al.”The effect of interpersonal touch during childhood on adult attachment and depression: a neglected area of family and developmental psychology?.” Journal of Child and Family Studies 19.1 (2010): 109-117.

Source: researchgate.net/publication/226048621…

5) Eases depression and anxiety

Though we do our best to preserve and protect the mental health of our children, they too can be vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

These issues may be short or long-term and can be associated with academic difficulty, bullying, personal changes, or social issues.

Recognizing signs that something is amiss — changes to habits, behavior, mood, and school performance are often among the first — should be an impetus for parents to get involved in what’s troubling a child.

Professional help can often be of great assistance in this matter, whether it’s a school psychologist or a referral from your child’s pediatrician.

Though it can be tough to know the best way to help, gentle physical affection in the form of a hug has the power to offer some temporary relief.

This is because of the oxytocin and serotonin that hugging releases, both of which help to create feelings of calmness and positivity.

Key study/paper: Takeuchi, Mika S., et al. “The effect of interpersonal touch during childhood on adult attachment and depression: a neglected area of family and developmental psychology?.” Journal of Child and Family Studies 19.1 (2010): 109-117.

Source: researchgate.net/publication/226048621…

6) Assists in overcoming feelings of rejection

Fitting in can be hard at any age, but when kids are struggling to gain the attention of critical peers, the fallout of failed attempts can be devastating.

When kids feel rejected socially, they may feel anxious, depressed, and angry, sometimes withdrawing even from those who love and care for them.

Though consolation and regained confidence often require time and future social successes, hugging your child tight to remind them that they’re loved can help them get over this pain.

The presence of additional oxytocin created by hugging can release positive feelings which help kids overcome rejection.

Key study/paper: Adriansyah, Muhammad Ali, Lisda Sofia Sugandi, and Netty Dian Prastika. “The Effectiveness of Hugging in Reducing Depression and the Feeling of Powerlessness in the Affected Adolescents.” Mid-International Conference on Public Health. 2018.

Source: theicph.com/…/20.-MUHAMMAD-ALI-ADRIANSYAH.pdf

7) Reduces feelings of powerlessness

Feelings of powerlessness are never pleasant, but for kids, they’re sometimes very much a part of life.

They’re rarely in charge of making their own big decisions, and realizing that the world doesn’t prioritize what’s fair to them in the same way parents do is hard to bear for some children.

These feelings can be tough to cope with, and receiving physical affection on a regular basis can help ease the pain of feeling powerless.

Twenty adolescents who participated in a series of hug therapy sessions reported that their feelings of powerlessness diminished after participating in the program.

Key study/paper: Adriansyah, Muhammad Ali, Lisda Sofia Sugandi, and Netty Dian Prastika. “The Effectiveness of Hugging in Reducing Depression and the Feeling of Powerlessness in the Affected Adolescents.” Mid-International Conference on Public Health. 2018.

Source: theicph.com/…/20.-MUHAMMAD-ALI-ADRIANSYAH.pdf

What doctors say…

8) Increases their (and your) microbiome

Though we spend a great deal of time and energy trying to avoid other people’s germs, science is quick to remind us that the “microbiome” we create through interaction with others is part of what safeguards us from illness and helps regulate our digestion.

This includes, as you might imagine, hugs shared between parents and children. An embrace benefits you both through the exchange of good and neutral microorganisms.

Perhaps could a few warm squeezes could even score them that coveted perfect attendance record?

Key study/paper: Browne, Hilary P., et al. “Transmission of the gut microbiota: spreading of health.” Nature Reviews Microbiology 15.9 (2017): 531-543.

Source: nature.com/articles/nrmicro.2017.50

9) Lowers blood pressure for couples

Though blood pressure is very rarely a concern for children, it’s one of the first vital signs doctors look for when assessing adult wellness.

High blood pressure can be caused by medical and lifestyle factors, including stress. It’s linked to heart disease, stroke, and other serious medical conditions, so making positive changes to bring your numbers down to a healthy range is always wise.

Cuddling up to your partner more often is one sure way to work toward that coveted 120/80. When romantic partners hug, releasing oxytocin, the “love” hormone, blood pressure is naturally lowered.

Key study/paper: Light, Kathleen C., Karen M. Grewen, and Janet A. Amico. “More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women.” Biological psychology 69.1 (2005): 5-21.

Source: sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0301051104001632

10) Minimizes inflammation when done daily

When we think of inflammation, it’s often in terms of a muscle or joint that’s been strained by overuse.

Another more chronic type of inflammation can also cause unpleasant symptoms, namely, an immune response to cellular damage, whereby the brain releases a flood of chemicals intended to alleviate the problem, but which then linger, leaving the body in an unnatural state of alert.

Proinflammatory cytokines are chemicals released by the brain in response to chronic inflammation.

In addition to diet and medication, per one 2020 study, the levels of two of these chemicals can be lowered through hugging.

Treating chronic inflammation may reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Key study/paper: van Raalte, Lisa J., and Kory Floyd. “Daily hugging predicts lower levels of two proinflammatory cytokines.” Western Journal of Communication (2020): 1-20.

Source: tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10570314.2020.1850851

11) Diminishes risk of TNFα-linked disorders

Safeguarding our children’s health is the topmost priority for parents; we organize vaccine schedules, make sure they have a healthy diet and plenty of exercise, and maintain health visits as prescribed.

Of course, if there’s something extra that can be done to give their wellness a boost, it’s a welcome addition to that routine.

A good old-fashioned hug has the power to reduce disease, per one 2020 study. Daily hugs are linked to a reduction in inflammatory chemicals in the bloodstream, including TNFα (tumor necrosis factor alpha).

TNFα causes inflammation and is linked to serious autoimmune disorders, such as Crohn’s Disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

Key study/paper: van Raalte, Lisa J., and Kory Floyd. “Daily hugging predicts lower levels of two proinflammatory cytokines.” Western Journal of Communication (2020): 1-20.

Source: tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10570314.2020.1850851

12) Speeds up healing for babies in NICU

For babies who are born early, special interventions are often needed to help them survive and thrive in the same way that full-term newborns would.

This can mean spending some time in the NICU, where they’ll receive that specialized care from qualified experts.

Though babies in the NICU often can’t be held as much as full-term newborns, the hugs and cuddles they do receive are really beneficial.

Evidence has shown that when NICU infants are held, hugged, and cuddled, they can heal faster.

Key study/paper: Hilton, Lisette. “Hugging is healing for NICU babies.” Contemporary Pediatrics 35.5 (2018): 27-31.

Source: search.proquest.com/openview/7c9c4ade6a76c18aaf943289ce24c5a2/…

13) May reduce perceived severity of illness symptoms

When your little one is sick, even with a simple head cold, their reaction to the condition may lean toward the over-dramatic.

When their runny nose and cough are “the worst thing ever”, cuddling up with mom or dad can help things feel less severe.

Key study/paper: 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.

Source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4323947

Neve Spicer
Written by Neve Spicer Updated on December 7th, 2021

Pin for later

Read this next