The study's participants also reported an attenuation of negative mood the next day, suggesting that the psychological benefits of touch may linger for a significant time.
They found those who received hugs during days they had conflicts experienced smaller increases in negative emotions that continued into the next day. The idea was to study the effects of physical touch in a generalized frame, since most studies have largely focused on the role of hugs in romantic relationships.
The topic area has been given more attention as evidence suggests those who engage in more interpersonal touch (hugs, holding hands) are happier and healthier in all aspects of their lives.
Severe or repeated distress from arguments can build up feelings of anxiety, paranoia, loneliness, and depression.
In the new study, Murphy and colleagues focused on hugs - a relatively common support behavior that individuals engage in with a wide range of social partners.
Of course, some people don't like to be hugged, and even for touchy-feely folks, responses likely vary depending on who the hug comes from.
The researchers interviewed 404 adult men and women every night for 14 consecutive days about their conflicts, hug receipt, and positive and negative moods.
Hypothesis of hugs buffering against deleterious changes in affect associated with experiencing interpersonal conflict is supported by the findings; however additional research is required to determine possible mechanisms.
"Receiving a hug on the day of conflict was associated with improved concurrent negative and positive affect and improved next day negative affect compared to days when conflict occurred but no hug was received", said Dr Murphy.
"This research is in its early stages", Dr. Murphy said.
"The lack of specificity regarding from whom individuals received hugs also restricted our ability to identify whether hugs from specific types of social partners were more effective than those from others", they explained in the paper. "However, our study suggests that consensual hugs might be useful for showing support to somebody enduring relationship conflict".
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