Summary: A new study reveals receiving a hug on a day when you experience interpersonal conflict can be a buffer against negative mood and distress.
Receiving hugs may buffer against deleterious changes in mood associated with interpersonal conflict, according to a study published October 3rd in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Michael Murphy of Carnegie Mellon University, , along with co-authors Denise Janicki-Deverts and Sheldon Cohen.
Individuals who engage more frequently in interpersonal touch enjoy better physical and psychological health and improved relationships. Theorists have proposed that interpersonal touch benefits well-being by helping to buffer against the deleterious consequences of psychological stress, and touch might be a particularly effective buffer of interpersonal conflict. This possibility holds important potential implications for health and well-being because conflicts with others are associated with a large range of deleterious psychological and physical outcomes. However, the generalizability of past research on this topic is limited because studies have largely focused on the role of touch in romantic relationships.
In the new study, Murphy and colleagues focused on hugs — a relatively common support behavior that individuals engage in with a wide range of social partners. The researchers interviewed 404 adult men and women every night for 14 consecutive days about their conflicts, hug receipt, and positive and negative moods. Receiving a hug on the day of conflict was concurrently associated with a smaller decrease in positive emotions and a smaller increase in negative emotions. The effects of hugs may have lingered too, as interviewees reported a continued attenuation of negative mood the next day.
While correlational, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that hugs buffer against deleterious changes in affect associated with experiencing interpersonal conflict. While more research is needed to determine possible mechanisms, according to the authors, the findings from the large community sample suggest that hugs may be a simple yet effective method of providing support to both men and women experiencing interpersonal distress.
Murphy adds: “This research is in its early stages. We still have questions about when, how, and for whom hugs are most helpful. However, our study suggests that consensual hugs might be useful for showing support to somebody enduring relationship conflict.”
Funding: Preparation of this manuscript was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (AT006694; SC); the conduct of the studies was supported by grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (AI066367; SC) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (HL65111, HL65112; SC); and supplementary support was provided by a grant from the National Institutes of Health to the University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute (UL1 RR024153, UL1 TR0005). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Source: Michael Murphy – PLOS
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Original Research: Open access research for “Receiving a hug is associated with the attenuation of negative mood that occurs on days with interpersonal conflict” by Michael L. M. Murphy, Denise Janicki-Deverts, and Sheldon Cohen in PLOS ONE. Published October 3 2018.
Receiving a hug is associated with the attenuation of negative mood that occurs on days with interpersonal conflict
Interpersonal touch is emerging as an important topic in the study of adult relationships, with recent research showing that such behaviors can promote better relationship functioning and individual well-being. This investigation considers whether being hugged is associated with reduced conflict-related decreases in positive affect and increases in negative affect as well as whether these associations differ between women and men. A sample of 404 adults were interviewed every night for 14 consecutive days about their conflicts, hug receipt, and positive and negative affect. Results indicated that there was an interaction between hug receipt and conflict exposure such that receiving a hug was associated with a smaller conflict-related decrease in positive affect and a smaller conflict-related increase in negative affect when assessed concurrently. Hug receipt was also prospectively associated with a smaller conflict-related increase in next day negative affect but was not associated with next day positive affect. Associations between hug receipt and conflict-related changes in affect did not differ between women and men, between individuals who were married or in a marital-like relationship and those who were not, or as a function of individual differences in baseline perceived social support. While correlational, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that hugs buffer against deleterious changes in affect associated with experiencing interpersonal conflict. Possible mechanisms through which hugs facilitate positive adaptation to conflict are discussed.