Why should we embrace winter

Psychology: Why cuddling and touching are so important to us

In times of contact barriers and distance rules, the longing for closeness, for body contact, for hugs grows. Scientific studies also confirm that touch is good for the psyche and physical well-being

In the dark Corona winter, of all things, the simplest remedy for anxiety and stress is particularly difficult to come by for many people: a firm hug. Happy are those who can celebrate "World Hugging Day" on January 21st without any distance requirements.

Research confirms: hugs can help protect against disease. At best, those who are held in the arm feel trust, affection, security and consolation - this is good for the psyche, and thus also for physical well-being.

When we are hugged, the body also releases messenger substances that are popularly known as "happiness hormones". Oxytocin, for example, has a calming effect, helps reduce stress and strengthens human bonds.

A hug lasts an average of 3.17 seconds

Everyone has their own sense of how close they like to let others get close to them. But scientists have also looked for objective factors that could provide clues about the ideal hug.

For example, researchers at Toho University in Japan have shown, by monitoring the heart rate of newborns, that hugging a parent with "medium pressure" is the best way to calm them down - both babies and parents. The cuddling in the Japanese families did not last longer than 20 seconds, the researchers reported. Then the children would get restless.

Hugs don't have to be long. Scientists at the University of Dundee in Scotland recorded an average of 3.17 seconds when they examined spontaneous hugs between athletes and their coaches, competitors and supporters during the 2008 Summer Olympics. The results were not influenced by the nationality of the two huggers, nor by their identity as men or women.

The Bochum-based biopsychologist Sebastian Ocklenburg points out that it can be proven that people hugged each other as early as the Neolithic Age - evidence of this is the grave find of Valdaro. In 2007 the remains of two people were discovered in the village near Mantua, who had turned to each other at least 5000 years ago and were buried in a close embrace.

Together with colleagues, Ocklenburg investigated whether the emotional context of a hug influences its execution. From observing hundreds of encounters at the arrival and departure gates of an airport, they concluded that when emotions are involved, one is more likely to hold the other person in the left arm. "The left half of the body is controlled by the right half of the brain - which is heavily involved in processing positive and negative emotions," the scientist writes.

Almost 17 million Germans live alone - which does not automatically mean that they do not have a steady partner for the health-promoting hugs. If you are really on your own, you can look for other ways to better well-being: At the university in Skövde, Sweden, positive effects were found when cuddling with dogs.

According to Swedish researchers, slow, enjoyable food can also increase oxytocin emissions. And the Bremen neurologist Sebastian von Berg gives another tip: Hug a tree. "That sounds funny now, but once you've done it, you notice: It makes a good feeling, it feels big and strong," he told Radio Bremen.

Katja Räther, dpa