Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Hugs and the Brain

The human brain is a relational organ. That’s the good news and the bad news. Bad news if its relationships are dysfunctional and less than affirming; great news if they contain positive components that contribute to health and wellbeing. Take ‘hugs,’ for example. Research led by Sheldon Cohen PhD studied the impact of ‘hugs’ in helping to protect stressed people from getting sick. They exposed study participants to a common cold virus, sequestered them, and monitored infection and symptoms of illness. The results, published in Psychological Science, revealed that perceived social support reduced the risk of infection associated with experiencing conflicts—with hugs being responsible for one-third of the protective effect. Among participants who did become infected, greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs both resulted in less severe illness symptoms, whether or not the individual was experiencing conflicts in life. According to Dr. Cohen, 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. More tomorrow.

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