Family hug

(Photo by Sergii Sobolevskyi on Shutterstock)

BOCHUM, Germany — It’s official: a hug can make a world of difference. Scientists have confirmed that touching others (with their consent, of course) really does have a beneficial effect when it comes to pain and mental health. Moreover, a team in Germany discovered that just a brief touch can ease feelings of pain and depression — even if this touch comes from a robot!

The researchers from Bochum, Duisburg-Essen, and Amsterdam reviewed over 130 international studies involving roughly 10,000 people to figure out if touching truly carries benefits for human well-being. That review came to the unmistakable conclusion that touching others alleviates pain, depression, and anxiety. Interestingly, those studies also concluded that the touch doesn’t have to last all that long — or involve another human being. Objects like social robots, weighted blankets, and pillows also helped people to feel better.

“We were aware of the importance of touch as a health intervention,” says Dr. Julian Packheiser from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at Ruhr University Bochum in a statement. “But despite many studies, it remained unclear how to use it optimally, what effects can be expected specifically and what the influencing factors are.”

According to the results of the study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, babies also benefit from regular hugs, but it needs to be mom and dad doing the hugging.

“In the case of infants, it’s important that it is the parents who administer the touch; their touch is more effective than that of a care professional,” notes Dr. Helena Hartmann from the University of Duisburg-Essen. “In adults, however, we found there was no difference between people our volunteers were familiar with and a nursing professional.”

Father hugging child outdoors
According to the results of the study, babies also benefit from regular hugs, but it needs to be mom and dad doing the hugging. (Photo by Josh Willink from Pexels)

The biggest impact of touching someone appears to be on someone’s mental state, pointing to touch therapy as a useful tool for those dealing with mental health disorders. Researchers also found that the act of touching someone promoted small cardiovascular benefits, such as improving blood pressure and heart rate.

Importantly, it doesn’t take an entire afternoon of hugging someone to make them feel better. Studies show that longer touching sessions, such as hugging someone for 20 minutes, did not improve the impact on a patient’s well-being.

“It’s not true that the longer the touch, the better,” explains Dr. Packheiser.

In fact, studies show that the shorter (and more frequent) the touch, the better.

“It doesn’t have to be a long expensive massage,” Packheiser adds. “Even a short hug has a positive impact.”

“This led us to the conclusion that consensual touch improves the well-being of patients in clinical scenarios and healthy people alike,” Dr. Packheiser concludes. “So, if you feel like hugging family or friends – don’t hold back, as long as the other person gives their consent.”

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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