Receiving a warm hug may help buffer us against the negative mood alterations associated with interpersonal conflict.
Previously, psychologists have proposed that interpersonal touch may protect people from the consequences of psychological stress, particularly stress from interpersonal conflict.
Studies suggest that hugs not only help us feel better — they may also protect us against diseases. That’s a bit counter-intuitive seeing how a hug might actually result in catching a contagious illness, such as the flu. However, a 2015 study performed by a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon suggests that physical touch protects us from stress-induced sickness. The more often people hugged, the less likely they were to get sick, even among individuals who frequently had tense interactions. Such results immediately segway to other findings that show social support (having meaningful relationships) protects people from the cold.
In a new study led by Michael Murphy at Carnegie Mellon University, researchers wanted to investigate how hugs mitigate the negative psychological outcomes of interpersonal conflict. The idea was to study the effects of physical touch in a generalized frame, since most studies have largely focused on the role of hugs in romantic relationships.
The researchers interviewed 404 adult men and women for 14 consecutive days about their conflicts, whether or not they were hugged, and the positive and negative moods they experienced.
According to the results, the participants who received a hug during the day of conflict were more likely to report a decrease in negative emotions and an increase in positive emotions. The study’s participants also reported an attenuation of negative mood the next day, suggesting that the psychological benefits of touch may linger for a significant time.
The results are correlational, so more research is required in order to investigate the link between hugs and improved psychological function, and to uncover a possible mechanism. But, since this is just a single study among many that have reported that hugs improve mood, the findings suggest that embracing friends and family (and even strangers) is a simple yet effective way to get over interpersonal conflict.
“This research is in its early stages. We still have questions about when, how, and for whom hugs are most helpful. However, our study suggests that consensual hugs might be useful for showing support to somebody enduring relationship conflict,” Murphy said.