The coronavirus has sometimes made hugs a risky proposition over the last several years. Which has made many of us appreciate hugs a whole lot more. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by just how much we missed hugs during periods of lockdown. According to science a simple everyday hug has powerful psychological benefits.
As UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center explains, research has recently discovered humans come equipped with something called c-tactile afferents, which scientists have nicknamed “cuddle nerves.”
“When someone hugs us, the stimulation of c-tactile afferents in our skin sends signals, via the spinal cord, to the brain’s emotion processing networks. This induces a cascade of neurochemical signals, which have proven health benefits,” explains Greater Good. Those benefits include better sleep, stress relief, greater well-being, and an immune system boost.
Hugs are good for you. But how do you give good hugs? That might sound like a personal question (people do differ in their hugging preferences), but it turns out new research has answers to the pressing question of what constitutes your best bet for giving the best, most enjoyable hugs.
The science of the perfect hug
As Science recently reported a group of intrepid hug researchers conducted a series of experiments both in the lab and out in the world to try to pin down the exact qualities of the ideal hug. The scientists tackled such questions as: which is better, the criss cross style where you put one arm over the person’s shoulder and one around their waist, or the traditional bear hug position where both arms go around the waist? And where exactly is the sweet spot between a hug that’s too fleeting and one that’s awkwardly long?
Whether study volunteers were blindfolded and on the receiving hug from a stranger in the lab or pairs of friends were asked to demonstrate their preferred hugging technique out in the wild, the results were the same.
“Volunteers consistently rated hugs lasting less than 1 second as the least pleasurable. On a pleasure scale of one to 100, the 1-second hugs averaged in the low 50s; the 5- and 10-second hugs scored in the high 60s, with no significant difference between the two longer durations,” says Science.
And while participants in the lab didn’t report much difference in pleasure between bear hugs and the criss cross style, out in the real world 82 percent of hugging pairs opt for the criss cross (pairs of men were particularly likely to opt for this style).
Which, taken together, led Science to offer this brief but concrete advice for those looking to wring as much goodness as they can out of every hug: “In total, the results suggest the safest, most likely to be pleasant hug is one that’s 5 to 10 seconds long with crisscrossed arms. Good luck out there, humans!”