Hug away your loneliness

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Image: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

In an age where people show intimacy through digital platforms such as texts and social media, experts from University College London are urging people to cuddle more as they insist the act can truly comfort someone who is feeling rejected and socially isolated.

For the study, 84 women played a computerised ball-tossing game with two other participants, which they believed was measuring their mental visualisation skills. The ladies were then given a questionnaire on their feelings of self-esteem, meaningful existence, control and belonging.

After taking a 10-minute break from the activity, the women resumed only to find their fellow players, who unbeknownst to them were computer-generated, stopped throwing balls at them, leaving them feeling left out.

The women's eyes were then covered as their forearms were touched with a soft brush in either a slow or fast motion and completed the questionnaire for a second time afterward, with those receiving slow touches feeling more positive and less neglected than those who experienced a faster pace.

This identified a relationship between gentle touch and social bonding, which lead author Mariana von Mohr thinks is important.

"As our social world is becoming increasingly visual and digital, it is easy to forget the power of touch in human relations," she said. "Yet we've shown for the first time that mere slow, gentle stroking by a stranger can reduce feelings of social exclusion after social rejection."

While senior author Dr. Katerina Fotopoulou added that the findings appeared logical as mammals have a "well-recognised" need for closeness and attachment.

"So, it wasn't a big surprise that social support reduced the emotional pain of being excluded in social interactions. What is interesting, however, is that social support was optimally conveyed only by a simple, yet specific, instance of touch," she said.

The study was published in Nature's Scientific Reports.

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