Hugging a loved one not only helps you bond with them but also gives you a host of health benefits by lowering blood pressure and even improving memory, according to a new study.

Scientists from the University of Vienna found that the hormone oxytocin releases into the blood stream when you hold a friend close.

However, you have to be selective over who you hug. Giving a polite embrace to someone you don’t know well can have the opposite effect, according to the research, the Daily Mail reported. Oxytocin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, is primarily known for increasing bonding, social behaviour and closeness between parents, children and couples.

Increased oxytocin levels have been found, for example, in partners in functional relationships. In women, it is also produced during the childbirth process and during breastfeeding in order to increase the mother’s bond with the baby.

Hugging can also soften your personality. The researchers said someone who hugs loved ones often becomes more empathetic over time.

“The positive effect only occurs, however, if the people trust each other, if the associated feelings are present mutually and if the corresponding signals are sent out,” neurophysiologist Jurgen Sandkuhler, said.

“If people do not know each other, or if the hug is not desired by both parties, its effects are lost,” Sandkuhler said.

When we receive unwanted hugs from strangers or even people we know, the hormone is not released and anxiety levels rise, the study found.

(This article was published on January 23, 2013)
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