'Tis the season for the common cold. Lots of runny, red noses (apart from that of a certain reindeer). But with the cold also comes a lot of warmth, specifically in hug form. This week will be filled with reunions with friends and family, and you'll be dishing out so many hugs, your arms may get tired.
According to new research published in the journal Psychological Science, you may actually be protecting yourself and your loved ones from the common cold with those sweet embraces.
Lead author Sheldon Cohen described the thought process behind the study, in a press release:
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.
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.
The team asked asked 404 volunteers a series of questions about their social lives, like "About how many hugs do you get in an average day?" and "How often do you experience conflicts with your loved ones?" They then exposed the participants to the common cold virus.
As explained in the press release, the results demonstrated that perceived social support reduced the risk of infection associated with experiencing conflicts — and hugs made up one-third of the protective effect of social support. So whether or not they experienced conflicts, infected people had less severe illness symptoms if they had greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs.
While the exact mechanism behind the healing power of hugs and improved health isn't clear, the findings are still intriguing. They beg to be partnered with the "Hugs, not drugs" tagline — but they don't discredit the effects of cold medicines. So maybe it's more like "Hugs and drugs."
Looking for an extra last-minute gift for that special somebody? Give him or her a big fat bear hug. It won't cost you a thing.
(h/t Washington Post)
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