When We Can Hug Once more, Will We Bear in mind How It Works?

When We Can Hug Again, Will We Remember How It Works?

Alexis Block was concerned that the robot she had built was not working properly. She tested the optimal hug time for her HuggieBot 1.0, an on-demand squeezing machine with purple fur. Ms. Block had pressure sensors built into the machine's upper body. So when the human tester tapped or pushed the robot on the back, he let go. But that hug went on and on. "I was concerned that the pressure sensors were not working properly," she said.

Her palms began to sweat (getting stuck in the clutches of a giant robot is nobody's idea of ​​a good time). But then the hug ended and the HuggieBot released its test subject. When Ms. Block, who is on her Ph.D. At the Max Planck ETH Center for Learning Systems in Stuttgart and Zurich, the topic asked whether something had gone wrong. He surprised her by explaining that he wanted the hug to last. "He said," I just needed it and the robot wouldn't judge me. "

While the weeks of coronavirus quarantine stretched for months, hugs were one of the many things isolated people ached after. Hugs are good for people – perhaps more valuable than many of us thought, until we missed them.

Research has shown that hugs can lower our cortisol levels in stressful situations and increase oxytocin levels and possibly even lower our blood pressure. A 2015 paper published in Psychological Science even found that study participants who received more hugs were less likely to get sick when exposed to the cold virus than those who weren't hugged as often.

"The need for human contact is extremely great," said Judith Hall, a retired psychology professor at Northeastern University who researched human touch at the university's Social Interaction Lab. But whether or not to hug someone seems difficult at times.

Not everyone likes having their body squeezed against yours – as the plethora of “Not a Hugger” T-shirts available online shows. Ms. Block, the hug robot researcher, knows this only too well. Your best friend defines herself as "no hug". She makes an exception for Ms. Block, but "She told me that she actually preferred to hug my robot instead of hugging me because sometimes I won't let go," said Ms. Block, who is now working on a HuggieBot 2.0, with a laugh.

It's not always clear how long your hug partner wants to hug or how tight the hug should be. It's often about assessing the other person's level of comfort.

That brings us to the Hug Club's first rule: you don't have to hug someone you don't want, and it's best to ask before the squeeze – especially if it's someone you don't know well. While of course you can just say, "Can I hug you?" Better to ask Wendy Ross, the director of the Center for Autism and Neurodiversity at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, “Some people like hugs, some don't. What do you prefer? ”This framework begs the question of the other person's preferences.

Dr. Ross noted that in our neurodiverse world, asking for consent for human touch is critical. While some people, both within and outside of the autism spectrum, find solace in contact, others feel uncomfortable with it. "We're all on the human spectrum," she said.

This also applies to children – no matter how much you want to be hugged by your niece or nephew. "We send our kids really mixed messages when we say, 'Our body is our own' but also 'You need to hug your grandma,' said Regine Galanti, a child psychologist who practices on Long Island. Explaining to Grandma why your child declined their hug request will help your child understand in the long run that it is okay to deny everyone access to your body.

The good news is that once you determine that your hugging partner is wanting a hug, you will likely receive clues as to how long it should last. Sabine C. Koch, psychologist and dance movement therapist, head of the master's degree in dance therapy at the SRH University in Heidelberg and director of the Research Institute for Creative Art Therapy, published an article in the journal Behavioral Sciences in 2017 about how people signal the end of a hug.

Dr. Koch, who also studies embodied communication and body rhythms at Alanus University in Bonn, sent doctoral students to train stations and student unions to watch people hug, paying special attention to what happened just before the two parties split. Students found that hugs shifted from gentle, "round" movements to a series of pats on the back – what she calls the "rhythm of combat". Immediately after the pats started, the hug ended.

“In most cases, people have this very gentle hug first, and whenever a certain amount of time passed they would start patting on the back and then parting. This was true of all combinations of women with men and women with women, ”she said. But for men who hug men, that wasn't true. Their hugs immediately began with a pat on the back – that rhythm of battle.

In the next phase of her studies, Dr. Cook the participants' eyes and give them a handkerchief. The blindfolds made sure they weren't picking up any visual cues when the hug ended, she says. Participants were instructed to drop the handkerchief when the hug was over. When the back pats began, most of the participants dropped the handkerchief.

"There were a few people in the experiments who didn't use that clue, but it was a really small percentage," said Dr. Cook.

When you think you could be one of them and hug each other for too long? Just watch out for those faucets. That will be your cue that it is time to let go.

Don't worry about hugging too tightly. The HuggieBot 1.0 had three pressure settings: Light, Medium and Extra Squeeze. Ms. Block said that in her research, study participants rated the tightest hugs most often as their favorites.


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