Baby-hugging behavior may be a way to better bond with others, according to a new study published in Psychological Science.
Researchers say that while baby-hugs might be “natural” in a culture that values physical closeness, they may not be natural in a society that values “social bonding.”
“I think that people often don’t realize that social bonding is an important social process,” said study author Jennifer Hargreaves, a doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
“In other words, when we hug our kids, we’re actually making sure that we’re not hurting them or that they’re safe or that we get to see them interact with other people.”
Hargreets and her co-author, Rebecca Bierman, a professor of psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, looked at how people hugged their babies, whether it was for social bonding, or just to have a hug.
In their study, researchers showed pictures of infants and toddlers to participants and asked whether they hugged them or not.
Participants were asked whether hugging a baby was natural or not, and whether they did it to show affection or to show caring.
The results showed that, although people hugged babies for social reasons, there was no evidence of an association between babies and their caregivers.
“What we found is that babies have a lot more social interactions with their caregivers than people think,” Hargres said.
“That is, they’re able to socialize with other children who have the same experience as they have.”
Researchers also found that babies tended to be more likely than adults to hug their parents when they were younger.
“They’re just being more affectionate,” Hargeres said, adding that the finding shows that babies may be doing it to get their parents’ attention.
“People often don, in the culture, not only have these social interactions, but they’re doing it in a way that’s really healthy.”
While it’s not clear why babies need to hug so much, Hargreeves said that “social interactions are important in babies.”
“We need to teach babies that it’s okay to show a parent affection and to let them know how they feel,” she said.
For the study, Hargereets, Biermans and their co-authors surveyed about 200 participants ages 3 to 8.
They also looked at what babies call “parent-friendly” behaviors, such as being close to other people or having their arms around their parents.
They compared these findings to data from an earlier study that measured the “social anxiety” of infants.
The researchers then found that baby-friendly behaviors and parents’ “social closeness” were associated with babies being more likely “to be hugged by other parents” when they’re older, but not when they are younger.
The study was published in the March issue of the journal Psychological Science, and was co-authored by Hargreyes and colleagues from the University at Buffalo.
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