The Way We Hug
Hugging is something we all do at some point in our lives: for some it is a daily greeting, while others reserve embraces for special occasions; but what does hugging tell us about body language and how many types of hug exist in the spectrum of human behavior?
The Importance Of Hugging
Despite often being discounted as a frivolous physical gesture, hugging is a fundamentally important part of human interaction and the act of clasping another human being in an embrace seems to have been around forever. Physical intimacy in the form of a hug has been documented since records began and we can see countless historical examples by glancing at artwork and sculptures from many centuries ago.
Hugs are important displays of nonverbal communication and behavioral experts believe that hugging helps us form bonds and communities. Strong communities and interpersonal relationships help make us happier and healthier, so it’s no wonder that the hug is here to stay.
Types of Hugs
People from different countries, genders and ages use the act of hugging in different ways to show acceptance and form and reinforce human connections. Hugs are often coupled with kissing rituals. For example, in Italy it is customary to greet both strangers and old friends with a light hug and a kiss on either cheek.
There are countless types of hugs and people will often express a unique hugging style based on their personality and their relationship with the person they are embracing. In general, we can draw loose conclusions about certain types of hug. One major factor to look for is whether the body is held back or pressed against the other person. For most people, full body contact when hugging is reserved for very close friends, family and romantic partners.
Some psychologists believe that if a hug, be it tight or loose, is accompanied by a repeated pat on the back, then the person doing the patting is exhibiting signs of discomfort and wishes the embrace to end swiftly.
Hugs don’t need to be reserved for just two individuals; the act of group hugging is particularly prevalent in the sporting world and hugs between three people or a whole team can help to unify a group and provide a level of subconscious bonding that is not attainable from purely vocal interaction.
Alternatives to Hugging
Not everybody is comfortable being hugged or freely hugging others. Certain factors such as intimacy issues, body odor or reserved personality types can make hugging a less common activity among certain individuals.
There are many useful alternatives to hugging that are employed frequently across different cultures and societies. The handshake is perhaps the most common physical greeting aside from hugging. A brief but firm meeting of hands is less intimate than a hug but still serves the purpose of creating a physical connection with another person and displaying open body language.
The ‘high-five’ is another popular form of physical acknowledgment; often accompanied by a laugh or smile, giving a high-five can be just as beneficial as hugging when it comes to forming bonds.