What makes a hug between friends uncomfortable?

The importance of the hug

The United Nations has that January 21
to the World hug day - National Hug Day - explained.

Basics about touch: An embryo can already perceive touch stimuli from the seventh week of life, and these are essential for initial communication even after birth. With millions of sensory cells, the human skin can immediately recognize whether it is a positive or negative touch, whereby the brain converts positive touch stimuli into relaxation. Responsible for this are the C-tactile fibers, too Stroking fibersthat react to gentle touches on the back at 34 degrees Celsius, the temperature of the fingertips. It is evaluated according to the speed of the stroke and the temperature, whereby a touch of about 1 to 10 cm per second is perceived as a pleasant stroke. In babies, touch stabilizes breathing and regulates blood sugar levels, hugs strengthen the immune system and people who are hugged frequently are less prone to illness. Positive touch relieves aggression and stress and relieves pain, including mental pain.

Hugs and touch are important for people in their relationships, whereby the closer a relationship you have with someone, the more of a body you can touch. To understand what happens in physical contact, you have to look into the Evolution of primates look back. Monkeys and great apes create and maintain their relationships through the social grooming, whereby grooming is not only associated with removing dirt or parasites from skin and fur, but also comes about through the slow driving through the fur, which is associated with searching for the cleaning person. This also applies when parents run through the hair of their children, and after all, most people also find a certain sense of wellbeing from the help of their hairdresser when they wash their hair or do their hair. The slow stroking associated with grooming stimulates them afferent tactile neuronsthat are only found in hairy skin and that are different from the other neurons that carry information about touch, pain, or pressure. These special neurons only respond to light and slow strokes and have a direct connection to the brain, where they do the Release of endorphins trigger. Endorphins are part of the pain control system and produce a pain-relieving effect, which is why about human cuddling with its attendant behaviors such as stroking, palpating and occasionally driving through the hair, represents a form of human primate grooming that is also designed to create and maintain relationships. Since the feeling for psychological pain is processed in the same areas as the feeling for physical pain, endorphins, which arise from a hug and touch, also dampen emotional pain, so that a hug in such a situation can be perceived as comforting and even pain-relieving. Last but not least, these effects are also due to the neuropeptide Oxytocin reinforced. The extent to which hugging makes people comfortable and helps them to strengthen relationships, so there is also a mechanism that can switch the feeling of touch from pleasant to unpleasant when it comes from the wrong people - see, for example, Meaning of the distance zones.

Martin Grunwald, Professor of Perceptual Psychology at the University of Leipzig, describes body contact as an elementary prerequisite for the human mammalian organism to grow in the very early childhood. There is no neural or physical-cellular growth without an adequate degree of body deformation, i.e. body contact. Grunwald's experiments have shown that fertilized egg cells in the womb react to touch as early as the sixth week of pregnancy, thus stimulating growth. In adults, around 900 million receptors send information to the brain every moment, many times more than visual and hearing impressions. In the magnetic resonance tomograph, Grunwald examines the biochemical processes in the body triggered by contact and their individual and social effects. "The physical relaxation, the regulation of emotions can be done very well with body contact, and we have a whole series of positive immune reactions that are only and exclusively stimulated by body contact." According to Grunewald, people are in physical contact at the individual level for a healthy, Studies have shown, for example, that waiters who briefly touch their guests briefly before paying can expect a higher tip. Even a light pat on the back before an exam measurably reduces the blood pressure and stress level of students.

At the beginning of 2012, the author of the worksheets gave an interview to a journalist on the subject of "hugging". Here is the full text of the interview with questions and answers:

Why are hugs important?

Just a quote from Virginia Satir: "We need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance, and twelve hugs a day for growth." So, people need four hugs a day to survive, eight hugs to live, and twelve hugs to grow.

How do they affect us? On our body and on our psyche? What do they trigger in us?

The general rule for hugs is that you penetrate the intimate distance zone of another person, which you can only penetrate with special permission and if there is an emotional relationship. The effect of a hug therefore always depends on the person who is given a hug. Normally, only very close friends are allowed into this intimate zone, i.e. partners, close relatives or good friends. If strangers penetrate this intimate zone, this triggers feelings of displeasure and sometimes even flight reactions. The point of a hug is that everyone can feel the body of the other, so that you should and must break off if you feel uncomfortable. A good hug relieves the body, loosens it up and opens it up.

Exclusion through other people threatens the human need for social interaction and connection, with negative consequences for cognitions, feelings and behavior. In a study, Morese et al. (2019) Behavioral and fMRI measurements used to investigate which form of social support can cushion the negative effects of social exclusion. They compared two types of support from a friend: emotional support, given through gentle touch, and verbal support in the form of an informative text message. FMRI measurements were carried out on female subjects during a virtual ball throwing game under the two conditions mentioned above, in which they were excluded from participation. The results showed that the experience of social exclusion is modulated by the type of support received, and physical and emotional touch from a loved one can be an effective way of dealing with negative emotions, although this works much more readily than the rational explanation of one Situation someone is in.

How important are hugs in relationships?

In this case, hugs are an expression of the existing feelings for the other, so they are also affirmations of the existing relationship, which in the long run can lead to a habituation effect. You hug each other in the morning when you say goodbye or in the evening when you see you again. But even if a hug is often just routine, it can have more or less different meanings for one of the two. Research (Murphy, Janicki-Deverts & Cohen, 2018) shows that someone who was after and before a Disagreement is hugged, has a lower risk of the argument negatively affecting mood. For two weeks, participants in a study provided information about the conflicts of the day every evening and indicated whether they were hugged before or after the argument. It was shown that a hug stabilizes the good mood of the arguing and dampens feelings such as anger or disappointment. The relationship between receiving a hug and changes in affects caused by the conflict did not differ between women and men, between people who were married or in a marriage-like relationship and those who were not. Although this is only a correlative relationship, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that hugs are buffers against harmful effects in interpersonal conflicts.

Non-sexual physical affection like hugs, touching, holding hands, or cuddling play an important role in that Functioning of a relationship, but not all people are happy with the touch they receive from their partner. Differences in adult attachment tendencies are one way of understanding individual differences in satisfaction with touch. There is also evidence that relationship disputes can de-escalate and become more productive if you simply take your partner's hand; That is, simple touch can even defuse conflicts. Wagner et al. (2020) conducted a cross-sectional study on a sample of married couples to examine how attachment relates to satisfaction with being touched in marriage. The Attachment style As is well known, exists in a wide range, with avoidant people preferring more interpersonal distance, while fearful people seek more closeness. This style of attachment develops in childhood but can change over time and vary with the individual in question. A lot depends on how open, close and secure you feel with this person, which is influenced by many factors. The research expected that avoidant people would prefer less touch, while fearful people would want more. The more routine affection the couples experienced, the more satisfied they felt with their partners' touch, even if they had an avoidant attachment style. With little physical affection, however, anxious husbands were less satisfied with the touch, but not anxious partners, who often choose to solicit the lack of affection.

How important are they in friendship?

The same applies here as in a relationship, they serve to reinforce. The shape and the intensity of the hug also depends on the duration of the friendship, the situation. It is quite possible that you spontaneously take someone in your arms who you have not yet hugged, for example when the other is talking about the death of a loved one. Hugs can generally be very spontaneous, for example in sports, where it's less about the relationship with the other than about expressing joy or sadness together.

Are hugs meaningful at any age?

Yes, although it depends on both the person and the circumstances. The importance of being hugged by others may change in life, but no general rule can be established for it.

From a question / answer community:
I would really like someone to hug me. What should I do?
It's very rare that someone hugs me. I just wish that somebody would hug me and hold it a little longer. Most of the time, I'm not doing well because things don't go smoothly in my life. I am often sad about it. That's why I really want that. Friends of mine either hug me very rarely or hardly at all. In the family we never hug. I don't really like hugging my parents. But with others it is. Not so with men, because I'm a girl and I prefer to do that with women. I've never gotten to know it in such a way that one hugs each other. I'm not the spontaneous person now, I just ask if I could hug them. But I only did that with two teachers whom I hugged at the end. I've never done that with others. I'm a bit shy and reserved and also rather careful not to do anything wrong. I just want a hug that lasts a little longer. I've been needing this for a long time. What am I to do?

Hug of toddlers

Yoshida et al. (2020) examined how infants and toddlers in the first year of life react when they are hugged, held and hugged by their parents or other people. For the study, the heart rate of the children and the strength of the hug were measured by means of pressure sensors on the skin of the adults, while they were either held by their parents and strangers or hugged to different degrees. Infants older than four months showed decreased heart rate and increased parasympathetic activity during a hug. A medium-tight hug was particularly calming, while a tight hug was less effective. It was also shown that the children are less fond of long hugs, because a hug for a minute or more almost inevitably made them feel bad. In the case of children older than 124 days, there was also a difference in whether the person hugging was a parent or a stranger, which means that the perfect hug, therefore, one that is not too tight from one's own parents represents.

By the way: Oxytocin shouldn't play a role here, because the time span of the hug experiment was probably too short for that.

Researchers recently found that hugs can have a positive effect on children's brain development, because babies and children who were often hugged by their parents had a faster and better brain development than children who did not have this form of affection. Oxytocin also has an influence the development of the embryonic brain, such as the formation of blood vessels in the pituitary gland. Premature babies respond less to physical contact than babies who were not born prematurely, but children who received affection in the form of hugs were found to have a stronger brain reaction. According to this, such a form of affection can significantly influence the development of children's brains.

You can also immobilize an opponent with a hug.
Amintore Fanfani

Can you also hug unemotionally?

If the hug is just a ritual, behind which there are no emotions in relation to the other, then hugs can of course be empty phrases, such as those expressed when greeting. It can often be observed that people are rather stiff when hugging in the forward posture where cheeks and shoulders touch (kiss-kiss), i.e. complete a formal act, because both actually don't want to feel anything. Hugging one another under such circumstances is often a sign of trust shown to third parties, a demonstration. Incidentally, the following posting was found on a question-and-answer portal:

How do you politely tell people that you don't want to be hugged?
I think we live in a culture where people hug too quickly and without a big cause. Only now, while on vacation, have I seen the landlady of my holiday apartment hugging me goodbye without being asked, although I only saw her a second time and the relationship was purely business-like. However, for me this is uncomfortable and too close, for whatever reason, when people outside the family want to hug me prematurely. Do I have to work on myself and my tolerance limit, just tolerate it, or is there the opportunity to politely tell or show people that you don't want a hug without them thinking straight away: "What kind of a person is that?" . Are there any other people like me?

What deficits develop when you z. B. is little hugged in childhood?

That always depends on the personality of the child, its age and / or its needs, because children differ in how much and, above all, how long they need this form of care. In some cultures, the physical contact between children and caregivers is more intensive than in others, whereby this more intensive contact causes an increased well-being in the child and caregiver, whereby what is known as "basic trust" develops, which gives the child a feeling of security . Because a process of detachment begins with birth, which from a certain age also manifests itself as an aversion to the parental embrace, for example.

Can I learn to hug?

This question contains a paradox, because feelings towards other people, from sympathy to love, cannot be learned. What you can learn is to recognize whether and how a hug suits a certain person in a specific situation. You can learn to correctly interpret the signals that the other person is sending out and, if necessary, to avoid the hug.

Incidentally, there are also strongly ritualized forms of embracing in dance, which depend on the type of dance and range from a very open posture to a very narrow form.

The laterality of hugs

It has long been known that hugs are important in developing human relationships and that they are therefore one of the most common non-verbal behaviors. Packheiser et al. (2018) have now investigated from which side people hug each other and why they do so. For this purpose, over 2500 hugs were evaluated, namely at a German airport, on the open street and also in the laboratory, where test subjects had to hug a mannequin. The hugs in the departure terminal were assumed to be more negative (goodbye, fear of flying), while the hugs in the arrival terminal were more positive (joy of reunion, relief from the flight). Neutral hugs have been researched on YouTube records of people offering blindfolded hugs to strangers in the street. It was found that most of the people prefer a right-hand hug, that is, a hug in which the right hand is passed over the left shoulder of the other person. However, it was also shown that in both positive and unpleasant situations people hugged on the left more often than in neutral situations. This is attributed to the influence of the right half of the brain, which controls the left half of the body and processes both positive and negative emotions. During hugs, emotional and motor networks in the brain interact and lead to stronger ones Left orientation in emotional contexts. Before the experiments in the laboratory with the mannequin, the test subjects were told various positive, negative or neutral short stories. This was also the Handedness and feetiness of the test persons with a questionnaire, whereby this actually had an influence on the direction in which a hug is carried out, because right-handed people are more inclined to hug another person from the right than left-handed people. That was a special case Hug between two men, because they showed a clear left orientation in neutral situations. It is believed that many consider hugs to be uncommon among men and therefore tend to be perceived as negative even in situations such as a greeting, so that because of the negative accompanying emotions, the right half of the brain is also active here and influences the motoric execution to the left.

Not only laterality but also emotion influences the form of social contact

Social touch is an important aspect of human social interaction, because people in all cultures are kissing, cradling toddlers, or hugging. These behaviors are necessarily asymmetrical, but the factors that determine their lateralization are still poorly understood. Since the hands are often involved in such social contact, motor preferences can lead to asymmetrical action. However, social touch often occurs in emotional contexts, suggesting that distortions could be modulated by asymmetries in emotional processing so that through such social touch one can discover insights into lateralized brain networks that connect emotions and actions. Meta-analyzes show that lateral distortions occur in all forms of social contact, but these are not entirely determined by handedness. There is a general preference for tilting the head to the right when kissing, initiating a hug with the right hand, and rocking babies in the left arm. When kissing and hugging, it is assumed that people have a dominant leading hand with which they initiate the movement, but in emotional situations the side preference shifts to the left, regardless of whether it is the expression of a positive or a negative emotions. It is believed that the shift to the left in emotional situations arises from the fact that emotions are primarily processed in the right half of the brain, which controls the movements of the left half of the body. So there are side distortions in these social contacts that are triggered by the emotional context, and most of all when you are hugging. Apparently, motor and emotional networks interact in the brain, which are closely interconnected with one another (Ocklenburg et al., 2018).

Hugs from dogs

Psychologist Stanley Coren scoured the Internet using terms like "hug dog"Or"love dog“To search for photos of a dog being hugged by a human. He randomly selected 250 images on which one could clearly see and analyze the body signals, but above all the dog's facial expressions. You saw many happy people but many unhappy dogs, because in 82 percent of the pictures the animals showed at least one sign that they were feeling uncomfortable, only in eight percent you saw a dog that apparently enjoyed what was happening to him . As typical Sign of malaise was scored if the dog looked away from the hugger, put on its ears or licked its lips with its tongue. An indication of stress or fear is also when the animal is denied Crescent moon look where the eyeballs move upwards, so that the whites of the inner and lower edge of the eyes appear in the form of a crescent moon, which in the dog's language stands for “please let it pass quickly”. Hugging is one for a dog Restriction of freedom of movement and therefore a threat that makes dogs feel uncomfortable, and quite a few people get bitten when they hug a dog.
source: taz.de from April 30, 2015



Morese, R., Lamm, C., Bosco, M. F., Valentini, M. C. & Silani, G. (2019). Social support modulates the neural correlates underlying social exclusion. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, doi: 10.1093 / scan / nsz033.

Murphy, Michael L. M., Janicki-Deverts, Denise & Cohen, Sheldon (2018). Receiving a hug is associated with the attenuation of negative mood that occurs on days with interpersonal conflict. PLOS ONE, 13, doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0203522.

Ocklenburg, Sebastian, Packheiser, Julian, Schmitz, Judith, Rook, Noemi, Güntürkün, Onur, Peterburs, Jutta, Grimshaw, Gina M. (2018). Hugs and kisses - The role of motor preferences and emotional lateralization for hemispheric asymmetries in human social touch. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 95, 353-360.

Packheiser, J., Rook, N., Dursun, Z., Mesenhöller, J., Wenglorz, A., Güntürkün, O. & Ocklenburg, S. (2018). Embracing your emotions: affective state impacts lateralization of human embraces. Psychological Research, 82, 1-11.

Wagner, Samantha, Mattson, Richard, Davila, Joanne, Johnson, Matthew & Cameron, Nicole (2020). Touch me just enough: The intersection of adult attachment, intimate touch, and marital satisfaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, doi: 10.1177 / 0265407520910791.

Yoshida, Sachine, Kawahara, Yoshihiro, Sasatani, Takuya, Kiyono, Ken, Kobayashi, Yo & Funato, Hiromasa (2020). Infants Show Physiological Responses Specific to Parental Hugs. iScience, 23, doi: 10.1016 / j.isci.2020.100996.

http://www.netzpiloten.de/hugabrit-wissenschaft-umarmungen/ (16-04-20)

http://news.rub.de/presseinformationen/wissenschaft/2018-01-24-psychologie-gefuehle-entscheiden-von-welcher-seite-wir-uns-umarmen (18-01-25)

https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/forschung-aktuell.675.de.html (19-02-27)

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