Frequent Hugs Can Keep Infections Away, Researchers Say

A new study has found that receiving frequent hugs might protect us against viral infections. Research from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that hugging can actually protect people from the common cold virus, and that more hugging is linked to lessened severity of symptoms. The research was published in Psychological Science. Dr. Sheldon Cohen, the lead author, and his colleagues at Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences say that hugging might lower stress, which is known to increase the risk of infections.

Cohen says that earlier research indicated that people with continuous conflict in their lives are more susceptible to infection from cold viruses, and that those who have social support seem to be protected from the effects of stress in their lives, so the new link between illness protection and frequent hugs isn’t far-fetched.

“We tested whether perceptions of social support are equally effective in protecting us from stress-induced susceptibility to infection and also whether receiving hugs might partially account for those feelings of support and themselves protect a person against infection,” Cohen stated.

The hugging-verses-infection research involved 404 healthy adults, according to Medical News Today. Those participants were given a questionnaire so that the researchers could determine each participant’s perceived level of social support. Then the study participants later completed 14 consecutive interviews by telephone, and discussed conflicts they had experienced and hugs they had received. The participants were then deliberately exposed to the common cold and quarantined.

Researchers discovered that the people who had the greatest social support and most hugs were less likely to become infected with the virus that they were deliberately exposed to. Hugging was found to be the reason for about one-third of the protection from illness. When participants did become sick, people who had received the most hugs showed less symptoms than people who had received fewer hugs, regardless of the amount of conflict the participants experienced.

“The apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioral indicator of support and intimacy. Either way, those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection,” Cohen said in the Carnegie Melon News.

The Inquisitr recently reported some suggestions for keeping stress at bay during the hectic holidays. Perhaps adding a few more hugs from close loved ones might help protect us from infections during this often stressful time as well.

Dr. Cohen has been studying the effects of stress and social support on immunity for the last 25 years. His earlier research on the role of psychosocial factors and their link to the common cold has been published in both the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association. Funding for the research that linked hugging to resistance against infection was provided by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, according to Medical News Today.

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