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Hugging brings satisfaction to Americans

P By David K. Hale

The Daily Universe
Brigham Young University

pROVO, Utah, Oct. 3 – A hug may be more than just a way to show affection. Research indicates hugging may have both physical and psychological health benefits.

A recent survey conducted by Lever 2000, which polled 1,100 people, revealed that nine out of 10 Americans use hugs to show their love.

“Hugging definitely brings people together,” Michael Christian, who wrote “The Art of Hugging” under the pen name William Cane, said. “Men and women like the warmth and sense of security they get from a hug, although women seem to be more sensitive to the emotional connection that comes with an embrace.”

More than 80 percent of the people surveyed reported they feel satisfied after receiving a hug.

“Hugging definitely contributes to your emotional welfare,” Yolanda Sebresos, a Brigham Young University junior, majoring in psychology from Bountiful, Davis County, said. “It makes you feel better, more loved.”

The recent trend has been toward a more open society. More than half the women surveyed said they hug more than their parents did at the same age.

“As people open up, they hug more,” Christian said. “Society is more open, especially to this kind of affection, than 20 years ago.”

Despite the increasingly open nature of society, Americans still trail foreign countries in touch-oriented affection.

Studies performed by the Touch Research Institute showed the French, among the highest touch cultures, touch each other more than 100 times in a 30 minute conversation, while Americans touch each other only twice in the same period.

In 1999, Tiffany Field, Ph.D. and founder of TRI, released the results of a study that suggests a correlation between high levels of affectionate touch and low levels of violence.

In her study, Field measured cross-cultural differences in aggression and touching by observing adolescents at McDonald’s restaurants in both Paris and the United States.

Field noted teens touched one another significantly more in Paris than in the United States. They might casually rub the back of a peer while talking, loop an arm around another’s shoulder or rest a head on a peer’s shoulder.

In contrast, U.S. teens were more likely to fidget with themselves – twisting rings, twirling hair, rubbing their own limbs or biting their lips, but they rarely touched one another.

“There’s a dramatic difference between adolescent homicide and violence here and in France,” Field said. “In France it’s next to zero. We’re off the charts.”

BYU psychology professor Matt Spackman said to draw comparisons between amount of touch and crime rates is very speculative, however.

“There is significant research that demonstrates that Northern European cultures tend to have a larger personal space than here in the States,” Spackman said. “Yet, crime is significantly lower in Northern Europe than it is here.”

Equatorial cultures such as French and many Latin cultures tend to have smaller personal spaces, which would lend itself to higher incidence of interpersonal touch, he said.

In these cultures, crime ranges from extremely low in France to relatively high crime rates in some Latin American countries.

Spackman said significant cultural differences, especially the acceptance of media portrayal of violence, contribute to the reduced crime rates in France and other countries.

However, Field believes there are benefits beyond effects on violent tendencies of touch. This is why she helped found the Touch Research Institute in 1992.

“Hugging is on the same order,” she said. “It provides stimulation on pressure receptors.”

Simply put, pressure on skin receptors can slow down a person’s heart rate and blood pressure, Field explained.

Her studies also suggest touch can reduce the secretion of cortisol, which is the stress hormone that erodes immunity.

“Cortisol is usually high when you’re stressed or depressed,” Field explained.

Christian said one hug could raise the level of our body’s natural painkillers – and keep them raised for four hours after a hug.

Consistent and frequent touch is important to healthy development from the earliest formative years throughout adulthood, Field said.

If hugging is not your thing, Field recommends finding another physical way to express affection.

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