Hugging a partner could reduce stress for women, study suggests

However, research showed an embrace with a romantic partner did not have the same effect for men.

18 May 2022

Women about to enter stressful situations might want to consider hugging their partners, as new research suggests an embrace could reduce their stress response.

According to a new small study, a brief cuddle with a romantic partner might lower the biological response to situations, such as school exams, job interviews, or presentations.

However, the same effect was not seen in men.

Previous research has shown that massages, embraces combined with hand-holding, and embraces combined with affectionate communication can all reduce signs of stress in women.

However, few studies have investigated these effects in men, nor have they explored the effects of brief embraces on their own.

Gesa Berretz of Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, and colleagues, analysed 76 people in romantic relationships.

All of them underwent a stress-inducing test in which they were asked to keep one hand in an ice-water bath for three minutes while being observed and maintaining eye contact with a camera.

Before this test, half of the couples were told to embrace, and the others did not embrace.

The researchers measured various indicators of stress, including levels of the stress hormone cortisol in saliva, before and after the experiment.

They found that women who hugged their partners had a lower cortisol response to the stress test than women who did not.

Other measures of stress including changes in blood pressure and emotional state did not show any associations with partner embrace.

Writing in the Plos One journal, the researchers said: “In conclusion, we found a cortisol-buffering effect of embraces between romantic partners following a stress induction procedure.

“The effect was specific to women.

“This finding could have implications for stress reduction in everyday situations that often induce stress like exams, oral presentations or job interviews.”

The researchers suggest further study could investigate whether this benefit extends to embraces with platonic friends.

The authors also call for research into related effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, including whether social restrictions that reduced social touch may be associated with observed increases in stress and depression during the pandemic.

The authors added: “As a woman, hugging your romantic partner can prevent the acute stress response of your body.”

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