Sometimes You Just Need to Hug It Out

Posted on Feb 4, 2014

Do you remember that old Diana Ross song?”Reach out and touch somebody’s hand.Make this world a better place, if you can.”

Ms. Ross knew what she was singing about:  the simple act of touching really does offer a plethora of benefits.

From our earliest moments, touch is a critical factor in our social development and health.  As babies, a touch is the primary way that we explore and interact with our world. A caregiver’s touch fosters attachment and communication.  Wordlessly, touch can communicate comfort and security, but it can also warn a curious explorer not to interact with an object. Touch in the form of massage has many benefits, including improved sleep, reduced irritability, and increased sociability among infants as well as improved growth of premature infants.

Though we’re never touched as much as in childhood, we never outgrow the benefits of being touched.

As adults, we use touch to communicate nonverbally, bond with others, and foster social growth.

 Recent studies of the unique power of touch have found that: 

  •  Seemingly insignificant touches yield bigger tips for waitresses
  • People shop and buy more if they’re touched by a store greeter
  • Strangers are more likely to help someone if a touch accompanies the request.
  • Touching on the court even predicted performance across all NBA teams.


So why does yield such amazing results in everyone from infants to professional athletes?

 Biochemically, touch lowers the stress hormone, cortisol, and stimulates the release of the bonding hormone, oxytocin. Touch is naturally reciprocal:  you can’t touch another person without being touched.

The good news is that the person giving a hug receives just as much benefit as the person being hugged. 

Of course, touch is also the building block of connection and intimacy in a romantic relationships. 

Depending on the stage of the relationship, touch functions in different ways. Generally, the amount of touch in relationships increases at the beginning of relationships, peaks in early marriage and then tapers off to a level that is comfortable for both partners.  This can tricky for couples when their children are young if one parent is on touch-overload from being with the children and the other is touch-starved from being in a professional environment all day.

While happy couples do tend to touch more, the true indicator of a health in romantic relationships is not how often your partner touches you, but how often he or she touches you in response to your touch. The stronger the reciprocity, the higher the emotional intimacy and satisfaction in the relationship.

We live in a fast-paced, goal-directed, multitasking world, fueled by technology. Unfortunately, we touch our smartphones more than we touch each other. Yet, touching continues to be a primary means of communicating with those we love, whether we are conscious of it or not. Our need for a caring touch is normal and healthy and we never outgrow it. Consider giving the people in your life what they really need but might not ask for: a big hug!