Hugging can reduce levels of stress – but only for women, claims study

Hugging has many emotional benefits, but did you know that a comforting embrace only has stress-reducing effects for women?

Scientists have found that a cuddle can buffer the body’s natural response to tense situations as women produce more of the love hormone oxytocin.

But the same cannot be said for men, as no visible stress-reducing effects have been established from hugging.

Researchers at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany studied couples aged between 19 and 32, to explore whether embracing a partner can trigger a positive emotional response.

All 76 participants were asked to keep one hand in an ice-water bath for three minutes, whilst maintaining eye contact with a camera.

Prior to this, half the couples were left in a room for 20 seconds and instructed to hug, stimulating a 'natural experience of the embrace'.

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The researchers measured indicators of stress, including cortisol levels through saliva samples, blood pressure and a survey on their mood – before and after the experiment.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, found that women who hugged their partner had lower cortisol levels after the task, compared to those in the control group.

Experts claim that the presence and support of others, especially through touch, can “act as a buffer towards the bodily stress response.”

The research suggests that a hug with a romantic partner may be “a highly feasible method in everyday life” to reduce the cortisol response for women facing stressful situations.

There was no link between hugging and stress levels among men, as they produce less oxytocin following a hug, claims the researchers.

Higher levels of oxytocin are linked with a drop in cortisol production, so men’s stress levels may be unaffected by a hug if it does not trigger oxytocin.

Although the study did not explore oxytocin levels, previous research has found that women perceive touch as ‘significantly more pleasant’ than men and release more oxytocin in response.

The researchers said: “'Therefore, the mutual embrace might have elicited higher levels of perceived pleasantness and thus higher levels of oxytocin release in women compared to men which could explain the observed difference.”

They also noted that there was no link between other indicators of stress, such as blood pressure and emotional state, among those who hugged.

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