How we hug each other

Feelings and gestures determine the embrace behavior

Expressions of love and affection: Hugs play an important role in our social life. © Geber86 / istock
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From left or right? From which side we hug our counterpart, depends crucially on the situation. While most people prefer to hug from the right - in emotionally charged moments, we tend more to the left-sided hug, researchers found. Another factor is handedness. Who is right-handed, often hugs from this side.

Hugs play a major role in human interactions. They express affection and love and accompany us practically in every situation. We hug each other in greeting and joy as well as in grief or fear. Each hug is different: Sometimes we press our counterpart, sometimes only fleetingly - sometimes we come from the left and then from the right.

But what determines how we embrace each other? Julian Packheiser from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and his colleagues have now investigated this. "We wanted to know if the emotional context influenced the hug behavior, " says the researcher. "We also wanted to find out if motor characteristics such as handedness influence the direction of hugging."

Airport as a research field

To answer these questions, the scientists evaluated a total of 2, 500 such touches. First, they set out in the departure and arrival terminal of a German airport in search of emotionally charged hugs. When departing, they assumed negative emotions of the persons involved.

On the one hand, people close to one another say goodbye to one another, and on the other hand, according to studies, almost 40 percent of all passengers are afraid of flying, which has an additional negative effect. Upon arrival, reunion pleasure and relief over the flight that has survived provide for positive emotions. display

To observe neutral hugs, the researchers moved to the video platform Youtube. Here they found records of actors offering blindfolded hugs to strangers on the street. Would differences be found depending on the situation?

Emotions are crucial

It turned out that overall, most people have a preference for right-sided hugs, with the right hand up. Despite this preference, both in positive and in negative situations, people embrace more often from the left than in a neutral context.

The scientists attribute this to the influence of the right hemisphere: it is responsible for the processing of emotions and controls the left half of the body. "In embraces, emotional and motor networks interact in the brain and lead to a stronger left-orientation in emotional contexts, " Packheiser explains.

A special case seems to be the embrace of two men. Here, the researchers found even in neutral situations a stronger left orientation. "We interpret this as saying that men's embraces are considered negative by many men, " says Packheiser colleague Sebastian Ocklenburg. Even in neutral situations, such as greeting, negative emotions may be involved in the hug, because men feel uncomfortable.

Right-handed hugging from the right

And what role does it play in hugging, whether we are left-handed or right-leaning? This was investigated by the team using an experiment in which subjects were asked to embrace a mannequin after hearing different positive, negative or neutral short stories. The content and ability of the participants were previously recorded in a questionnaire.

The result: "Handiness and ability can actually predict the direction in which a hug will be made, " says Packheiser. Right-wingers and right-wingers are therefore even more likely than left-wingers to embrace their counterpart from the right. (Psychological Research, 2018; doi: 10.1007 / s00426-018-0985-8)

(Ruhr-University Bochum, 24.01.2018 - DAL)