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Hugs can relieve pain, anxiety, and depression, study finds

Touch is a powerful force, capable of alleviating pain, depression, and anxiety. But how much touch do we need, and from whom?
Touch is a powerful force, capable of alleviating pain, depression, and anxiety. But how much touch do we need, and from whom? (CREDIT: FreePix)


Touch is a powerful force, capable of alleviating pain, depression, and anxiety. But how much touch do we need, and from whom? A recent study conducted by researchers from Ruhr University Bochum, Duisburg-Essen, and Amsterdam set out to answer these questions by analyzing over 130 international studies involving approximately 10,000 participants.


Their findings, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, shed light on the benefits of touch and its potential applications.


 
 

Dr. Julian Packheiser, from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at Ruhr University Bochum, explains the motivation behind the study: "We were aware of the importance of touch as a health intervention, but despite many studies, it remained unclear how to use it optimally, what effects can be expected specifically, and what the influencing factors are."


Julian Packheiser and his colleagues have analyzed over 130 studies on the subject of touch.
Julian Packheiser and his colleagues have analyzed over 130 studies on the subject of touch. (CREDIT: RUB, Marquard)


Through their meta-analysis, the research team aimed to address these gaps in understanding.


 
 

The study revealed that touch can have profound effects on both infants and adults. In the case of infants, parental touch was found to be particularly effective.


Dr. Helena Hartmann, from the University of Duisburg-Essen, emphasizes, "It's important that it is the parents who administer the touch; their touch is more effective than that of a care professional."


 

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However, for adults, whether the touch came from familiar individuals or nursing professionals made no significant difference.


Touch was found to have a substantial impact on mental well-being, with reductions in pain, depression, and anxiety reported across numerous studies. Additionally, touch showed positive effects on cardiovascular factors such as blood pressure and heart rate, although to a lesser extent.


 
 

Contrary to the belief that longer duration of touch yields better results, the study found that shorter but more frequent touching was more beneficial. Dr. Packheiser notes, "It's not true that the longer the touch, the better.


One of the questions the researchers pursued was what effect touch has on which part of the body.
One of the questions the researchers pursued was what effect touch has on which part of the body. (CREDIT: RUB, Marquard)


Even a brief hug has a positive impact." Surprisingly, touch administered by objects such as social robots, stuffed animals, and body pillows also showed a measurable positive effect, albeit less pronounced than human touch.


 
 

"This led us to the conclusion that consensual touch improves the well-being of patients in clinical scenarios and healthy people alike," says Dr. Packheiser. "So, if you feel like hugging family or friends – don't hold back, as long as the other person gives their consent."


Benefits of touch on physical and mental health. Orchard plot illustrating the overall benefits across all health outcomes for adults/children and newborns across 469 in part dependent effect sizes from 85 studies and 103 cohorts.
Benefits of touch on physical and mental health. Orchard plot illustrating the overall benefits across all health outcomes for adults/children and newborns across 469 in part dependent effect sizes from 85 studies and 103 cohorts. (CREDIT: Nature Human Behavior)


However, despite these promising findings, many questions remain unanswered. The quality of touch and its specific effects on individuals are areas that require further investigation.


 
 

Moreover, the distinction between affective touch and instrumental touch, such as medical examinations or hairdressing, needs clarification. The role of touching animals and cultural differences in the perception of touch also warrant deeper exploration.


Forest plot for all specific health outcomes with sufficient effects to warrant further analysis.
Forest plot for all specific health outcomes with sufficient effects to warrant further analysis. (CREDIT: Nature Human Behavior)


The study highlights the therapeutic potential of touch in improving both physical and mental well-being. From infants receiving comforting hugs from parents to adults benefiting from brief moments of connection, touch has the power to heal.


 
 

As research in this field continues to evolve, understanding the nuances of touch interventions holds promise for enhancing public health and promoting overall wellness.







For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


 

Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


 
 

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