In brief: Hugs heartfelt in more ways than one

In brief

Hugs heartfelt in more ways than one

Once dubbed "the universal medicine," hugs convey both comfort and affection. Now research suggests that they may have additional health benefits.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina recruited 59 women ages 20–49 who had been living with a spouse or monogamous partner for at least six months. All the participants answered questionnaires designed to assess the frequency of affectionate physical contacts with their partners, such as holding hands and hugging. Then the researchers measured the women's blood levels of oxytocin, a hormone made in the pituitary gland that induces relaxation and lowers anxiety.

During the first phase of the experiment, the women were asked to sit with their partners on a loveseat and talk for a couple of minutes about a time they felt particularly close; they then watched a romantic video for 5 minutes, talked for 2 minutes more, and ended with a 20-second hug. After this period of "warm contact," the women separated from their partners and underwent a "post-contact stressor" phase in which they prepared and recorded a speech about a recent anger-provoking or stressful event. Blood pressure, heart rate, and oxytocin levels were measured before, during, and after each phase of the experiment.

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