Hug Me Brother! Why Hugging is more important than we thought
In the 1950s, Harry Harlow of the University of Wisconsin carried out several experiments with infant monkeys to get an understanding of attachment. One particular experiment involved the separation of infant monkeys from their mothers. He then replaced the mothers with one of two fake maternal figures. One mother was made of wood, wire and a milk bottle to which the infant could receive nutrition. The other was also made of a wooden head and wired torso but instead of nutrition, it contained soft cloth around the torso. Harlow observed as the infant had a choice between the two pseudo-mothers and results showed that the monkey preferred the clothed creation over the milk feeding design. Despite being despicable and highly unethical, this experiment did tell us something extremely important; Getting your basic necessities like nutrition and shelter is not enough for development. Children need ‘love’. The infants chose the cloth over the nutrition because they, like us, are social beings and the reciprocity of love is more vital than a one way process of nutrition. It appears that it's not the food that matters. It's the care giver feeding.
Can you love without hugs?
Of course actions speak louder than words but there’s something more than that. A rat study by Kuhn, Scahnberg and Hofer demonstrated that it’s not maternal smell, nor communication that destabilises hormones in baby rats. It’s in fact; touch. Under different conditions, maternal licking and stroking of a rat pup stabilises hormones and development. And there is also a biological explanation to this. Research has shown that when receiving or giving hugs to love ones, there is a release of the hormone of oxytocin. Oxytocin has been referred to as the love hormone and is essential in the attachment process and the development of self-compassion. What is even more important is that hormones such as oxytocin prevent the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and glucocorticoids which influence heart health, our immune systems and even physical growth.
And these findings are consistent throughout age groups. A study by Light and colleagues found that frequent partner hugs are associated with higher oxytocin levels, lower blood pressure and lower heart rate in women. Hug research has even taken a creepy apocalyptic turn in Japan where robots have been created to hug the elderly. Thankfully, research has shown that this real world attempt of a Black mirror episode was strongly opposed by staff and care home residents.
Hugs that hit right in the feels
So we should hug more. That’s confirmed. But be warned, it can be done incorrectly! Hug too weak and it’s just an awkward rubbing of bodies. Too tight and it’s a wresting move! It turns out that hug strength and who the hug is from has a direct impact on heart rate. Recently published research at Japan’s Yoho University has found that medium pressure from parents rather than strangers is perfect for optimum calmness for both infants and parents. And like anything, practice makes perfect!
So in conclusion, hug your mother, your friend but most important, hug your infant. It is essential for their development. However vital you think it is, it’s more than that. At a time when touch is limited, we should appreciate its relevance and embrace it when we can. Yours Sincerely, The Motus Movement.