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National Hugging Day: Researchers examining the effect of nurturing touch explain why it’s critical to connect with yourself and others

Psychologists researching the impact of nurturing touch on dealing with traumatic memories are reminding people of the critical importance of connecting with yourself and others on National Hugging Day – Friday 21 January.

Women giving herself a hug
Nurturing touch in Havening is found to reduce feelings of distress

The team from Nottingham Trent University’s Affect, Personality and the Embodied Brain (APE) and Sport, Health and Performance Enhancement research groups have been examining the effect of Havening, a psychosensory technique to help with stresses and worries.

The technique is used globally to help people to improve their mental health. Simple and quick to do, it involves a variety of activities including stroking their own arms and hands while performing self-affirming and anxiety reducing tasks. The study is the first to evaluate the role of nurturing touch in Havening and also involves monitoring brain activity of participants. The team is also developing online guided interventions.

Preliminary findings have shown that nurturing touch in Havening helps to reduce feelings of distress associated with traumatic memories. Moreover, significant differences between participants who received the nurturing touch, and those that didn’t, were seen in brain activity immediately after a single intervention session. The researchers also saw a sustained reduction in depression several weeks after the intervention.

Lead researcher, Associate Professor Alex Sumich, said: “An invited, nurturing hug releases oxytocin, a hormone which is absolutely critical to our wellbeing and our physical and psychological growth. For example, oxytocin regulates the amygdala in our brain – which helps us to distinguish what is a threat and what isn’t. Thus, using the Havening technique or having a desired, nurturing hug can help to reassure us that traumatic memories are in the past.

“We mustn’t underestimate the benefits of a hug – whether that’s one we give ourselves, or one that we’ve invited from someone else.”

The first findings from the study are due to be published in a special APE edition of the journal Psychology and Neuroscience.

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    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queens Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    NTU was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards). It was the University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is one of the UK’s largest universities, with over 33,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 4,000 and an NTU community representing around 160 countries.

    In the past 15 years, NTU has invested £450 million in tools, technology and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2019 UCAS UG acceptance data) It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    75% of NTU students go on to graduate-level employment or graduate-entry education / training within fifteen months of graduating (Guardian University Guide 2021).

    NTU is 4th globally (and 3rd in the UK) for sustainability in the 2021 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

Published on 20 January 2022
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences