How hugging can lower your blood pressure and boost your memory
Hugging a loved one releases the hormone oxytocin that gives you a physical boost
But effect only works if you hug someone you trustEmbracing someone you barely know increases stress

By
Claire Bates

PUBLISHED:

12:12 GMT, 22 January 2013

|

UPDATED:

12:14 GMT, 22 January 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama gives his wife and first lady Michelle a squeeze

U.S. President Barack Obama gives his wife and first lady Michelle a squeeze in front of a worldwide audience: Hugging a loved-one reduces stress

Hugging a loved one isn't just a great way to bond – it has several physical benefits as well.

Scientists found that the hormone oxytocin was released into the blood stream when you hold a friend close. This lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety and can even improve your memory.

However, you have to be selective over who you hug. Giving a polite embrace to someone you don't know well can have the opposite effect, according to research from the University of Vienna.

Oxytocin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, is primarily known for increasing bonding, social behaviour and closeness between parents, children and couples.

Increased oxytocin levels have been found, for example, in partners in functional relationships. In women, it is also produced during the childbirth process and during breastfeeding in order to increase the mother’s bond with the baby.

Hugging can also soften your
personality. The researchers said someone who hugs loved ones often
become more empathetic over time.

Neurophysiologist Jrgen Sandkhler, said: 'The positive effect only occurs, however, if the people trust each other, if the associated feelings are present mutually and if the corresponding signals are sent out.

'If people do not know each other, or if the hug is not desired by both parties, its effects are lost.'

When we receive unwanted hugs from
strangers or even people we know, the hormone is not released and anxiety levels rise.

'This can
lead to pure stress because our normal distance-keeping behaviour is
disregarded. In these situations, we secrete the stress hormone
cortisol,' Sandkhler said.

He added that: 'Hugging is good, but no matter how long or how often someone hugs, it is trust that’s more important.'

Friends forever: Hugging is beneficial as long as you trust the person you embrace

Friends forever: Hugging is beneficial as long as you trust the person you embrace

Sandkhler therefore cautioned against the worldwide 'free hugs' campaign – a social movement involving individuals who offer hugs to strangers in public places.

He said people would only have a beneficial effect 'if everyone involved is clear that it is just a harmless bit of fun.'

Otherwise, it could be perceived as an
emotional burden and stress.

'Everyone is familiar with such feelings
from our everyday lives, for example, if someone we don’t know comes too
close to us for no apparent reason.

'This violation of our normal
distance-keeping behaviour is then generally perceived as disconcerting
or even as threatening,' he said.