How to give the perfect hug? A new study looks at how people rate their embraces

Geraint Vincent reports on the new study looking at hugs after spending so long not being able to embrace our loved ones

As the world opens up again and embraces are back on the cards, scientists believe they have unlocked the key to a perfect hug.

According to researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, it's all about the length of a hug, rather than the style of embrace.

They found that a hug lasting between five and ten seconds long was the most pleasant to receive, whereas a one second hug was not rated by the participants.

And hugs were found to provide an immediate pleasure boost, compared to several minutes afterwards.

Two studies were carried out - in the first participants hugged for one second, five or 10 seconds - with two different arm crossing styles and reported how pleasant, arousing and under control the touch felt.

In the first study, blindfolded participants rated both the ‘criss-cross’ method or ‘neck-waist’. Credit: Acta Psychologica

The results indicated that duration matters most, with the longer hugs rated the most pleasurable.

The one second hugs were rated as least pleasant and under control, and also resulted in lower immediate pleasure.

The theory that one style of hug would be deemed more pleasant than the other was not supported.

There were limitations identified in this first study as it only focused on 45 women participants.

Researchers then observed 103 hugs on campus in the second study, with the embrace style left up to the participants.

Criss-cross hugs were the most common type in the sample and these were more common between men than between women or mixed pairs.

Height difference and difference in emotional closeness were no significant predictors of arm crossing style, but gender was.

Scientists said their research findings align with other research concerning robots that were evaluated less positively after "too short" a hug.

They were aiming to identify a hug that can be applied in affective touch research.

“Our findings suggest that longer hugs are more pleasant than very short hugs and criss-cross hugs are more common than neck-waist hugs," they said in their paper.

“We anticipate that the studies presented here will provide a foundation for future research on pleasant touch, especially for research on hugs, which are highly prevalent but still widely understudied.”