Whether it’s snuggling with a partner, a hug or just a simple handshake, there’s something powerful about having physical contact with another human.
Studies have found some “incredible emotional and physical health benefits” that come from touch.
“Research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health,” according to Doctor Dacher Keltner from the University of California.
So, that’s why a cuddle feels so good, especially if it’s been awhile between hugs.
The language of love
The consensus among experts is many Western cultures are deprived of non-sexual human contact and we could use more of it in our lives.
Dr Keltner says we show affection using touch. It’s our “primary language of compassion” and is essential to what it means to be human.
“Touch signals safety and trust, it soothes,” he said.
“It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassionate response. This means a simple touch can trigger release of oxytocin, aka the love hormone.”
Our version of grooming
OK, so we’re not about to recommend you start picking at your loved ones like our fellow primates. However, there are similarities between human physical social contact and the grooming activities we associate with other species.
“It may not seem like it, but these socially important rituals and others like them predate the time our species first walked the African savannah,” according to scientist Jason Goldman who wrote about the topic for the BBC.
He said as humans evolved we had to find a way to replicate these rituals. This didn’t involve riffling through our friends’ fur for parasites.
“Words don’t always make adequate tools for communicating our feelings,” he said.
”Far more can be said by a heartfelt hug or squeeze on the shoulder after a friend suffers the loss of a relative.”
“In the same way too, one’s love and desire for a partner can be conveyed. This can be done by a seductive stroke far more effectively than even the words ‘I want you’ ever could.
“Those forms of touch stimulate within us the same endorphin release that chimpanzees enjoy during social grooming.”
Have you ever starved from human affection? There is now a party to fix that.
Cuddle parties are social gatherings where people meet up to “explore affection, intimacy and touch” in a non-sexual way.
Anne Hunter was the first qualified cuddle party facilitator in Australia. She explained how it works to ABC Radio National.
“Rule number one is clothes stay on the whole time and that is part of how we keep it non-sexual,” she said.
“It’s amazing how much touch in our society is sexualised in the sense that it is only permitted in the context of a sexual relationship, or maybe a familial one like parents cuddling children.
“People come to a cuddle party because they often just don’t get enough touch. They might be single. They might have a partner who has different touch needs to them.”
If that’s not up your alley, then feel free to just set an intention to hug your loved ones more often.