Humans have an innate need for physical contact, and hugs are one form of beneficial physical contact. Hugs are a signal of interpersonal support and affection that comforts those being embraced and strengthens self-appraisals of daily struggles. As human interactions become more digitized, however, some wonder whether the benefits of physical contact can be replaced. A set of researchers sought out to examine the association between the “availability of hugs” and self-rated health (SRH) in later life.
Researchers used data from 20,258 respondents, aged 67 and better, who completed the Canadian Community Health Survey at any point in 2007 or 2009-2012. To measure SRH, respondents were asked to rate their general health from “poor” to “excellent.” Researchers then broke respondents into two groups: those who reported “higher SRH” (i.e., excellent, very good, and good), and those who reported “lower SRH” (i.e., fair and poor). To measure frequency of hugs, respondents were asked how frequently they have someone who hugs them when they need it on a scale ranging from “all of the time” to “none of the time.” In addition to demographic characteristics, researchers also controlled for various health indicators (i.e., physical activity and pain) and social support indicators (i.e., positive social interactions and emotional/informational support).
As expected, the data indicated a direct association between SRH and the availability of hugs. Relative to those who reported that hugs were available “none of the time,” the likelihood of reporting greater SRH was 2.2 times higher among those who reported hugs available “all of the time,” 2.1 times higher among those who reported hugs available “most of the time,” and 1.6 times higher among those who reported hugs available “some of the time.” There were no significant differences in levels of SRH among those who reported hugs “a little of the time” or “none of the time.”
Given their findings, researchers highlight that more work is needed to explore their practical application. They suggest that future work examining the implementation of hug interventions can benefit those with lower levels of SRH or little access to hugs.
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Rogers-Jarrell, T., Eswaran, A., & Meisner, B. A. (2021). Extend an embrace: The availability of hugs is an associate of higher self-rated health in later life. Research on Aging, 43(5-6), 227-236.