It's time to hug it out. Recent research has found that a 20 second hug in the morning can reduce stress dramatically - but only for women. Dr Karen Hand is a social psychologist at TCD and she joined the Drivetime show on RTÉ Radio 1 to discuss these findings. (This piece includes excerpts from the conversation which have been edited for length and clarity - you can hear the discussion in full above).
While the research sample in this case was limited - heterosexual couples between 19 and 32 years of age - Hand says that there is a lot of research that hugging is good for the much broader population too. "It's good for older people, younger people, romantic couples, same-sex etc. It really helps our parasympathetic system and it does the same thing to us meditation, and slowing down, and breathing, and just really takes us back into ourselves."
So why doesn't this 20 second hug work for men? As with all pieces of one-off research, we just don't know, says Hand. "There is a theory that these researchers want to explore further, which is that women are known in a more general sense to get higher levels of pleasure from what they call gentle touch. There's a possibility that they didn't evaluate this in this study, but if they do it again, they'd like to see women's reaction of whether this was pleasurable versus men's, to try and see whether that was the short term effect for the less stressed."
Just how important is the 20 seconds duration? "20 seconds is the amount of hug time that has been shown in the past to be able to show an effect on both men and women, but it needed to be preceded by 10 minutes of hand holding", explains Hand.
"The other thing about hugs obviously is they have to ideally be from somebody that we trust and certainly not from somebody we don't trust. If somebody was to simulate a hug with us and we distrust them for whatever reason, it's going to have the opposite effect on us, where we're going to feel as if we're being preyed upon. There is other research which has shown that there is less of a bump of positive de-stressing if it's only a platonic friend, versus a romantic partner."
And what about those who don't have a romantic partner to hug? Well, Hand has some advice for them too. "You can hug yourself for a start. I know that sounds a bit Buddhist, but in all honesty, they have shown that if you put your hand on your heart, it is like giving yourself a hug. You can start to get the same benefits, the same physiological benefits of being hugged by someone else. It's the effect of skin on skin, non sexual touching, as we like to call it. Hugging trees could also work, hugging animals could again work, especially in all of these contexts of doing it for the right reasons."