Women hug more than men because they are more genetically predisposed to be more affectionate, a study has revealed.
About 45 per cent of their desire was inherited, while 55 per cent was down to environmental factors including media, personal relationships and unique life experiences.
In men, however, the study put attributed their desire for human touch – dubbed ‘skin hunger’ – to environmental factors alone.
The researchers were quick to stress that their results don’t mean women are ‘automatically’ going to engage in affectionate behaviour, or that they have ‘no control’ over their actions.
‘Our genes simply predispose us to certain kinds of behaviours,’ said Kory Floyd, professor at Arizona University and lead researcher for the study. ‘That doesn’t automatically mean we’re going to engage in those behaviours.’
The researchers warned that during the coronavirus lockdown everyone will be craving human touch, especially those who have been living alone throughout the pandemic. Stroking a pet, cuddling a pillow or practising a self-massage can all help, they said.
About 45 per cent of women’s desire to hug is inherited, while 55 per cent is down to environmental influences, the researchers said (stock)
Explaining the results, Professor Cory said ‘almost without exception’ women scored higher than men for tendency to be affectionate and receive affection.
‘There is some speculation that affectionate behaviour is more health supportive for women than it is for men,’ he said. ‘And that it helps women to manage the effects of stress more than it does for men.’
In the study, 464 pairs of twins aged between 19 and 84 were asked to rate a series of statements designed to measure how much affection they typically express.
Half the twins were identical, meaning they share 100 per cent of their genes, and half were fraternal, sharing 50 per cent.
The twins were chosen to try to distinguish the impact genetics have on behaviour, as they are raised in the same household with similar upbringings and early experiences.
If genetics didn’t play a role, the researchers would expect fraternal twins to have similar scores to identical twins, but this was not the case.
Women ‘without exception’ scored higher than men for tendency to be affectionate (stock)
Are you craving human touch in lockdown?
Hugging cats can help relieve stress (stock)
For those who are craving human contact during lockdown, the researchers recommended following these measures.
‘None is a perfect substitute,’ said lead researcher Kory Floyd, from Arizona University, ‘but when being able to hug or hold hands with our loved ones isn’t feasible or safe for us, these sorts of things are certainly better than nothing.’
1. Pet your dog or cat. Stroking an animal helps relieve stress, they said, which is why canine and equine therapies are so successful.
If you don’t have a pet, you could volunteer at the local animal shelter.
2. Cuddle your pillow or blanket. This can produce a calm and comforting sensation, they said.
3. Practice self-massage. Massaging the neck or shoulders will help relieve stress and physical pain, they said.
Prof Floyd recommended pressing your thumb into the palm of your opposite hand as a stress-relieving measure.
Identical twins scored ‘more similarly’ than fraternal twins, at least in the case of females, suggesting there is a genetic component to affectionate behaviour.
Men, overall, tended to express less affection than women, the results showed.
During the lockdown, normal actions such as hugging and shaking hands have been banned – which, the researchers said, will leave us all craving contact.
‘Many people thees days are recognising that they miss getting hugs, they miss touch, and it’s maybe the one thing technology hasn’t really figured out how to give us yet,’ he said.
‘There’s something special about touch that I think relates back to the fact that we, as human beings, are born in such a state of immaturity that we have no ability to take care of our own needs.
‘Touch equals survival as infants. If we don’t have someone touching us and helping to meet our needs, then we don’t survive.’
The study, published in Communication Monographs, throws open the doors for investigating which traits may be genetically influenced.
In the field, there is a ‘really strong underlying assumption’ that variations in people’s behaviours such as shyness and affection are down to learned behaviour.
The Touch Research Institute, at the University of Miami, has said that everyone needs touch during lockdown.
Describing how touch works, Dr Tiffany Field at the school, said: ‘The positive effects – the healthy effects of touch – come from moving the skin.
‘That stimulates the pressure receptors underneath, which send messages to the brain – mainly to the vagus nerve, which has branches in virtually every part of the body – that slows the nervous system down.
‘So you get decreases in heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones. You get changes in the brain waves to theta activity, or relaxation waves.
‘You also increase the natural killer cells, which ward off viral cells, bacterial cells and cancer cells.’