Written by Savanna Yelverton
What is a hug?
Hugging is known as a physical expression of affection. Hugs are used to “express reunion after separation”, as a greeting, or as a parting gesture to say goodbye (Pillay, 2010). Over time, hugging has taken many forms, including ones that can be considered uncomfortable. Each type of hug is complex and is used in different situations (Pillay, 2010).
Types of Hugs
The Sideways Hug: This hug is where the pair hug from the side of their body, rather than by facing each other. This type of hug is most often used by men. “As they approach each other, the thought of their bodies colliding becomes a higher priority than the politeness of the hug" (Pillay, 2010). This kind of hug initially feels uncomfortable but provides a sense of relief to both individuals once the hug is over (Pillay, 2010).
The “Pleased to Meet You Belly Button” (PYMBB) Hug: This type of hug is a rare one, but it occurs in instances of an extreme height difference. If two people of varying heights engage in a hug, they may encounter strange body part interactions. For a person who is significantly shorter than the person being hugged, a face and belly button encounter may occur (Pillay, 2010). This hug is characterized by a great amount of discomfort and may occur quickly, as a result.
The Shoulder Hug: Similar to the sideways hug, this type of hug is used between two individuals who are showing appraisal of another’s actions but are not committed to a full expression of affection. This will result in a “shoulder pat with one hand” and a smile (Pillay, 2010). Eye contact is made during this hug, but this is to assure the other that no further affection will be given (Pillay, 2010).
The Elbow Hug: This type of hug is initiated with a smile, and each person’s hands are placed on the elbows of the other. It usually takes place when two people have “a mutual understanding that they do not want to wrinkle each other’s clothes” (Pillay, 2010). Other gestures that commonly accompany this hug include the “cheek squeeze” or a “you look great!” (Pillay, 2010).
The Benefits of Hugging
Another benefit of hugging is its ability to lead to improvements in our physical health. Humans have “pressure receptors” on their skin, and the sensation of being touched activates them. These receptors then “send signals to the vagus nerve,” which can lead to lower blood pressure (Holmes, 2014). Additionally, as shown in an experiment that was performed at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, heart health is also improved by hugging (Holmes, 2014). “Participants who didn’t have any contact with their partners developed a quickened heart rate of ten beats per minute, compared to the five beats per minute among those who got to hug their partners during the experiment” (Holmes, 2014).
Holmes, L. (2014). 7 Reasons Why We Should Be Giving More Hugs. The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 8, 2016.
Pillay, S. (2010). The Art of Hugging: When A Hug Is Not All That It's Cracked Up To Be. Psychology Today. Retrieved April 8, 2016.
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Chelsea Ellithorpe
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor