Why is physical contact and affection good for us?
The comfort and security of experiencing the physical contact and affection of loved ones is something we're all likely to have experienced. But there is more to these hugs: warm touches lead to a reduction in stress hormones, for example, and slow down breathing and heart rate. What’s the reason for this? Via sensors on the skin, gentle caresses or other forms of physical contact activate what are known as CT nerve pathways. The brain then releases the happiness hormone oxytocin and we also become more receptive to the body's own opiates – endorphins.
The effect of physical contact
The more studies that investigate this connection, the longer the list of positive effects becomes: strengthening the immune system, relieving pain, treating anxiety and depression are just a few. This is actually not surprising, because touch plays an incredibly important role from an early age.
Babies depend on tenderness and close physical contact. Their gentle skin is asking to be caressed, kissed and stroked. The cuddle hormone oxytocin promotes the development of an emotional relationship. If babies can count on feeling loved, they develop a secure bond, which is the basis for a happy life.
Being in love
People newly in love are in a euphoric emotional state and floating on cloud nine. Why is this? Because the brain is flooded with the happiness hormone dopamine – a messenger substance that plays a role in addictive behaviour and leads to dependency. And the action hormone adrenaline makes the body’s pulse rate soar, mobilises energy reserves and heightens drive, while the happiness hormone endorphin reduces the sensation of pain.
A lasting partnership is something precious. Oxytocin is not only responsible for cuddling, but also for bonding. It generates love and loyalty, curbs aggression and promotes empathy. The oxytocin surge after sex has a bonding effect. The relationship defines itself as a unit – as a we and less as two I's.
Even though many of us have the little individualist inside who wants to feel independent, people of all ages need a certain amount of attention, stimulation and affection from others. This is because every touch causes the bonding hormone vasopressin to be released. Those who lack this feel rejected and lonely.
Hugs for greater well-being
According to a study by the University of Dundee, a hug lasts an average of 3.17 seconds.
Most people hug from the right. However, researchers have shown that an emotional, meaningful hug is more likely to come from the left.
People on their own also find other ways to feel better: a study at Skövde University of Applied Sciences found beneficial effects from cuddling dogs.
But not every form of touch is pleasant: it’s only beneficial if you yourself also find it pleasant – an unpleasantly crowded tram, on the other hand, can easily become a nightmare.