Science Behind Hugs: Why Some People Hate Being Embraced
The science behind hugs is simple. It says do it more.
There are two types of people in the world. Those who love to hug, and those who don't. If you fall into the latter category the world can be a hard place. You never know when somebody you meet might just leap towards you for a humble embrace. So why is it like this for some people? What is the science behind hugs?
Experts suggest it has something to do with the way you were raised.
A study titled Meaning of Hugging: From Greeting Behavior to Touching Implications notes that if kids were raised by huggers, they are more likely to engage in this physical act of compassion, than those who were not. It concludes, "hugging is an important element in a child’s emotional upbringing.”
Similarly, if somebody was raised by parents who themselves did not engage in a physical embrace, this act makes them uncomfortable. But this can also have an opposite affect. Where children who were starved of physical touch by their parents become social huggers.
Either way, the science behind hugs says that adults such as you and I shouldn't think of hugging as an uncomfortable physical activity. But, should 'embrace' it because it's good for your health.
Generally speaking, there are two reasons why lack of hugging is bad for your health. The first is that it can lead to an underdeveloped vagnus nerve. This is a bunch of nerves that run across the spinal cord all the way to the abdomen.
Second, an underdeveloped vagnus nerve can lead to an underdeveloped oxytocin system. These are the hormones that allow us to be intimate and compassionate, and bond with other people. With this hormone gone, it can be difficult to socialise or even pick up on social cues. Those who hug, on the other hand, are also more confident and self-assured than those who aren't.
If this wasn't enough, then sample this. A 2015 study by Carnegie Mellon University proved that "greater social support and more frequent hugs protected people from the increased susceptibility to infection associated with being stressed and resulted in less severe illness symptoms." This means you will fall less ill, only if you hugged and touched others (not inappropriately!).
“Those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection,” this study concluded.
If this didn't convince you either, how about some fist bumping? A 2014 study suggests that fist bumping is the most hygienic form of physical interaction.
Now, if you think you're ready to try hugging, the question is, where to begin? Here's how you can start.
- Begin by letting yourself believe that it is okay to back out anytime. You are not obligated to hug anybody. Go over boundaries and consent. Once you are there, you can start with those who you feel the most comfortable with.
- You can even share your inhibitions with them, so they know where you're coming from. And chances are your loved ones will quickly embrace this 'new thing' you're trying. After all, they won't ignore a well-meaning hug.
- If you're still not able to bring yourself to open up, think within. Try to gauge what's stopping you and work from there. If need be, visit a shrink to understand the underlying issues.
As for the rest of us who have friends who hate hugs, there are some handy tips to help them.
While the science behind hugs proves that it is an important activity, if you have friends who hate them, there are a few ways to go about things.
- Skip it completely, if you're just acquaintances. Because you might be comfortable with it, but not everybody around you might be.
- Read the signals. Be mindful of how people behave around you. If somebody proffers their hand towards you, don't leap towards them for a bear hug. The body language of somebody who doesn't want to be hugged is hard to miss.
- Respect their right to their bodies. Everybody has a right to their own body and they can choose whether or not to engage in intimate physical embrace. So be respectful of that desire as well.
There is a simple reason most humans love to hug: it exhibits warmth. We all crave for a bit of it in our lives. So irrespective of where you're coming from, how you were raised or what you've learnt, its a good idea to unlearn a few things. To learn about intimacy and as a result become more confident.
Life is all about trial and error. Unless you try it, you wouldn't know how it feels. So give hugging a shot as well. Who knows, you might become a convert!