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Scientists have found the simplest way you can protect yourself against stress and infection is by hugging a friend.

Led by Sheldon Cohen at Carnegie Mellon University’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the researchers tested whether hugs act as a form of social support, protecting stressed people from getting sick.

They found that greater social support and more frequent hugs protected people from the increased susceptibility to infection associated with being stressed and resulted in less severe illness symptoms.
Cohen and his team chose to study hugging as an example of social support because hugs are typically a marker of having a more intimate and close relationship with another person.

“We know that people experiencing ongoing conflicts with others are less able to fight off cold viruses. We also know that people who report having social support are partly protected from the effects of stress on psychological states, such as depression and anxiety,” said Cohen.

“We tested whether perceptions of social support are equally effective in protecting us from stress-induced susceptibility to infection and also whether receiving hugs might partially account for those feelings of support and themselves protect a person against infection,” Cohen said.

The results showed that perceived social support reduced the risk of infection associated with experiencing conflicts. Hugs were responsible for one-third of the protective effect of social support.
The study was published in Psychological Science.

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