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Hugs Help Protect Against Stress, Infection

Dec 19, 2014 06:44 PM EST

A new study shows that a hug a day, instead of apples, may keep the doctor away, as these loving embraces help protect against stress and infection, a new study shows.

According to new research from Carnegie Mellon University, hugs may not just be a form of social support but medical support as well. More frequent hugs protected people from the increased susceptibility to infection associated with being stressed, and resulted in less severe illness symptoms.

"We know that people experiencing ongoing conflicts with others are less able to fight off cold viruses. We also know that people who report having social support are partly protected from the effects of stress on psychological states, such as depression and anxiety," lead study author Sheldon Cohen said in a statement. "We tested whether perceptions of social support are equally effective in protecting us from stress-induced susceptibility to infection and also whether receiving hugs might partially account for those feelings of support and themselves protect a person against infection."

Hugs are often a sign of an intimate and close relationship with another person, so they are an easy way to assess social support. So researchers surveyed 404 healthy adults to see how frequently they received hugs, and then intentionally exposed them to a common cold virus to assess infection and signs of illness.

According to the study, infected participants that had greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs both resulted in less severe illness symptoms.

"The apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioral indicator of support and intimacy," Cohen explained.

"Either way," he added, "those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection."

The findings were published in the journal Psychological Science.

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