He said, "Interpersonal touch can be defined as touch behaviours for example hugging and holding hands that are used to communicate affection or are generally thought to indicate affection".
Severe or repeated distress from arguments can build up feelings of anxiety, paranoia, loneliness, and depression. Interpersonal touch is theorized to provide benefits to an individuals well being via helping to buffer against the deleterious consequences of psychological stress and interpersonal conflict.
More than 400 women and men were interviewed each night for 14 consecutive days about their conflicts, hugs received, and positive and negative feelings.
"The lack of specificity regarding from whom individuals received hugs also restricted our ability to identify whether hugs from specific types of social partners were more effective than those from others", Murphy wrote.
Murphy and Stratyner agreed that people can likely tell the difference between a heartfelt hug and a more perfunctory one.
"Results indicated that there was an interaction between hug receipt and conflict exposure such that receiving a hug was associated with a smaller conflict-related decrease in positive affect and a smaller conflict-related increase in negative affect when assessed concurrently".
Hugs, the researchers found, were associated with an uptick in positive mood markers and a reduction in negative ones; the opposite was true of relationship conflict.
While more research is needed to determine possible mechanisms, the findings from the large community sample suggest that hugs may be a simple yet effective method of providing support to both men and women experiencing interpersonal distress.
"This research is in its early stages", co-author Michael Murphy said. Murphy's study didn't examine how distinctions like these affect people's reactions to hugging, but he says he and his colleagues are working on another study that will include more granular questions, like whether the hug was explicitly wanted and who gave it. "However, our study suggests that consensual hugs might be useful for showing support to somebody enduring relationship conflict".