Jun 15, 2021
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When the outstretched arms of a hug are coming in too hot to avoid, what do you do asks hermoments.com? Whether you light up at the gesture and gladly bear hug it out, or completely recoil at the awkwardness of physical contact, your reaction actually has a scientific explanation. That's right, experts studied the reasons why people hate hugs, and the data makes a lot of sense. Here's an excuse to dodge your least favorite relatives the next time they raise their arms.
Blame Your Parents
As with most of our quirks and issues, our comfort with hugging is largely determined by our past experiences. Translation — if you’re skeeved out by hugging, you might be able to blame it on your parents.
It Starts Early
Before you call up mom and dad and give them an earful, you might want to learn the scientific reasoning to use in your argument. As the experts have found out, our varied responses to physical touch are formed pretty early in our lives.
Not Hug Exclusive
As Professor Suzanne Degges-White of Northern Illinois University told Time, “Our tendency to engage in physical touch — whether hugging, a pat on the back, or linking arms with a friend — is often a product of our early childhood experiences.”
Studying The Intimate Gesture
Hugging, like many other non-verbal forms of communication including the handshake or facial expressions, triggers responses in our brains. In 2012, a study delved deeper into the Western world’s different ways and reasons for engaging in hugs.
History Repeats Itself
So what did researchers see when they looked at the data? Well, it made perfect sense. As explained in Comprehensive Psychology, “In a family that was not typically physically demonstrative, children may grow up and follow that same pattern with their own kids.”
Hug Haters Lack Affection
The friend you insist on hugging no matter how much they squirm? Now, you know that they were mostly likely not accustomed to the routineness of intimate hug while growing up. So maybe give them an extra loving squeeze.
Where Not Hugging Leads
On the other hand, not every house devoid of physical affection produced people who prefer personal space. In fact, for those kids who really craved hugs and tenderness from their parents, they tend to swing in the opposite direction.
Where Needy People Come In
People who tend to let their hugs linger might fall into into the other category. Degges-White explains, “Some children grow up and feel ‘starved’ for touch and become social huggers that can’t greet a friend without an embrace or a touch on the shoulder.”
Hug To Help Your Nerves
Hugging in childhood has a direct effect on our brains. Too little physical touch results in an underdeveloped vagus nerve. This set of nerves that runs between our spinal cord and abdomen, that helps control our relaxation response time.
Hugs Stimulate Hormones
In addition to the vagus nerve, hugging also helps stimulate the production of a crucial hormone — oxytocin. This is the hormone pumped out by the pituitary gland when you're snuggled up next to a love one and feeling extra cozy.
The Cuddle Hormone
In one study, scientists saw that a lack of hugs chemically affects the brains of orphaned children. Professor Darcia Narvaez of the University of Notre Dame noted, “They were hardly touched in the orphanage and so did not display the rise in oxytocin — ‘the cuddle hormone’ — well-cared-for children have when sitting on their parent’s lap.”
What happens to people who lack the hormone? It goes well beyond hugging. People who have trouble producing oxytocin are also likely to experience social awkwardness and tend to have trouble reading social cues.
Huggers Are Confident
Professor Degges-White continued,“People who are more open to physical touch with others typically have higher levels of self-confidence." That makes sense. A person who shows up to a party and enthusiastically hugs everyone in attendance is likely to work the room like a social butterfly.
Social Anxiety Extends To Touch
The people who cling to the wall at parties and attach themselves to one friend like a life buoy, maybe skip hugging them. “People who have higher levels of social anxiety, in general, may be hesitant to engage in affectionate touches with others, including friends.”
Hugs Around The World
A huge determining factor of our comfort levels with hugs is culture. In America, touching your friends is not nearly as normalized as the affectionate cheek kisses and embraces of European countries.
Hug With Consent
Now that you understand the context of hugs, it might be best to heir on the side of caution and hold off on an unanticipated embrace. Once you’ve gauged the comfortability of your relationship, shoot ‘em with the question: “Is it cool if I hug ya?”
Get Cuddle Lessons
For those who want to increase their tolerance for hugs and touch, there are options. Professional cuddlers work with clients at their own pace, often times starting with handshakes, to build up their capacity for physical contact.
Hugs Are Healthy
Still think hugs are lame? You might reconsider after knowing that they actually boost your immune system. A 2015 study by Carnegie Mellon University showed a 32% increase in immunity for huggers, so germaphobes can't use that as an excuse to dodge open arms.
Parents Must Hug
Even for the non-huggers out there, if you have kids, hugging is a necessity. It's a formative part of their growth that will only make your child a more confident nurturing person while making your life a little less chaotic.
Hugs Are Simple, The Rest Isn't
In many ways, it seems that human beings have evolved to become huggers. And many everyday behaviors actually offer hidden benefits. Just like a family hug is often followed by a warm meal, it seems that the act of cooking says a lot about who we are as a species.
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