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Physical affection is such a powerful tool that, regardless of whether a relationship is perfect, it may be the good that outweighs the bad. An expression of affection can actually have physical effects ranging from joy to discomfort to outright fear.
Kory Floyd, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s Hugh Downs School of Human Communication has some interesting things to say about the science of affection. Floyd found that there is a direct correlation with being an affectionate person and a lower risk of depression and stress. “Highly affectionate people tend to have better mental health and less stress. They also react to stress better,” he says. So basically, hug it out and everything will be good!
Physical affection releases oxytocin, one of our feel-good hormones that decreases pain and causes a calming feeling. Hence why acts such as hugging, holding hands, and touching feel good to us. It also reduces stress hormones like cortisol. By increasing affection, daily levels of cortisol also decrease. Also, affection and blood pressure go hand-in-hand, especially for women. Those who those who receive more hugs from their romantic partner have lower resting blood pressure.
Matthew Hertenstein, Ph.D., is the director of the Touch and Emotion Lab at DePauw University. He explains that touch deprivation is an actual thing, and since scientists have found that about two to four feet is the accepted amount of personal space most Americans need to feel comfortable, it’s no wonder some people weren’t hugged enough as children. He says, “Most of us, whatever our relationship status, need more human contact than we’re getting,” says Hertenstein. “Compared with other cultures, we live in a touch-phobic society that’s made affection with anyone but loved ones taboo.” Interestingly in Latin America and the Middle East the personal space bubble can shrink to less than a foot or two.
One of the nice things is that the benefits of physical affection aren’t limited to one small moment in which the act is taking place. Taking the time for in physical affection with a loved one predicts an increase in a positive mood the next day.