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Hugs on the horizon: The psychology of why we are craving physical contact with loved ones

10 May 2021

With lockdown and social distancing regulations easing, we spoke to some expert members to understand just why the lack of physical touch has been so hard for some, and what to expect now hugs are on the horizon.

“Humans, whether we are social butterflies, or simply like being around one or two people, need other humans,” says Dr Audrey Tang, a chartered member of the British Psychological Society.  

“Right from the moment we're born, we instinctively know that hugs give us comfort, and not only us, but the mutual release of oxytocin within that embrace means the hug giver benefits as well. As lockdown lifts we have that opportunity to not just see one another, but to hold one another too, and what a bonus that will be.”

Professor Sophie Scott, BPS member and a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, adds:

“There is convincing evidence that our sense of touch is the best channel we have for expressing love, gratitude, compassion - very important emotions that we are poor at expressing with our voices and faces. In this context, getting to hug someone who wants you to hug them really matters. You get to share love, compassion and gratitude with the people you are closest to, and whom you may not have had physical contact with for over a year."

Dr Sandra Wheatley, a chartered member of the BPS says:

“Hugging is a simple and effective way of transmitting love, affection and care for someone without a word having to be spoken, sometimes just a touch on your arm from a loved one is enough to reassure you and let you know all is okay.

“Coping without physical touch for so long has been hard, so this will be a significant moment and it will feel like a real corner has been turned as we come out of lockdown. Of course not everyone is going to rush back into hugging straight away, some people will feel more confident and comfortable than others, but whenever it comes, that first genuine, loving hug with someone special will mean the world.”

While we look forward to hugging our friends and family it’s important to remember to continue to follow government guidance and to remain vigilant to limit the risk of transmission of Covid-19 in the community, and to be considerate and caring of those who aren't yet able or feel confident to hug yet.

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