Psychologist Professor Geoff Beattie has joined the big debate on hugging, arguing that it has a range of benefits for our health and well-being
The writer, broadcaster and Professor of Psychology at Edge Hill University was interviewed on BBC Radio following the unveiling of Little Miss Hug, the newest character in the Mr Men series of books which have sold more than 80 million copies worldwide.
“Hugs seem to have such a positive impact. They impact on self-esteem, they impact on relationships and they impact upon the body’s ability to cope with stress.”
Geoff’s latest research identifies hugging as an instinctive, primitive behaviour which is present even in toddlers and young children who hug their teddy bears and dolls for comfort. He argues there is significant evidence to suggest that hugging increases the body’s levels of the feel-good, bonding hormone oxytocin and reduces the stress hormone cortisone, having an overall positive impact on our physical health and mental well-being.
According to Geoff there are a number of different hugs which we use in everyday life as a means of non-verbal communications. This includes the ‘bear hug’ to signal social status and dominance, and the ‘big squeezey hug’ to signal sympathy, which human beings are able to understand on a similar level to facial expressions.
Geoff discussed his research, and the UK’s changing relationship with hugging, on BBC Radio with Adam Hargreaves, son of the creator of the Mr Men franchise Roger Hargreaves, on Thursday 8th May. The 35th addition to the Little Miss family, Little Miss Hug, has attracted significant media attention as a symbol of how attitudes to hugging have changed.
Geoff concludes that hugging in the UK is now one of the most common form of nonverbal communication used in greetings and farewell, something which would have been unthinkable in 1966 when a famous study identified the UK as a ‘zero-contact culture’.
In response to the question of how body language in public in the UK changed, he said,
“It looks as if it has changed quite dramatically. There is a generation coming through in which hugging seems to be the principal way they are using to greet each other. From a psychologists’ point of view you have to welcome that because hugging has such a positive impact on the human body.”
You can listen to the full interview on BBC iPlayer from 33:20 here.
Geoff is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, featured as the on-screen psychologist for 11 series of Big Brother and his analyses of nonverbal communication have featured in a large number of academic articles and books.