Hugs, which have been part of social interactions between humans since birth, demonstrate emotions such as affection, love, sadness or afraid, depending on the side we embrace others.
‘Hugging shows that you care about a person and that you support that person through good times and bad. You are more likely to embrace others from the left side if you are feeling emotional.’
Hugs occur in both positive and neutral contexts: we hug when we are sad or afraid, or simply when saying hello.
While most people showed an increased preference for right-sided hugs, left-sided hugs occurred more frequently in positive as well as negative situations, the study showed.
"This is because of the influence of the right hemisphere, which controls the left side of the body and processes both positive and negative emotions," said lead author Julian Packheiser from the Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum in Germany.
"When people hug, emotional and motor networks in the brain interact and cause a stronger drift to the left in emotional contexts," Packheiser added.
Moreover, predictions about which hand will be on top during an embrace can be based on the participants' handedness and footedness, the researchers observed.
"Handedness and footedness can indeed predict the lateralisation of an embrace," Packheiser said.
Right-handed people usually tend to hug the other person from the right side, much more often than left-handed people.
However, a strong left-hand drift was observed in an embrace between two men, even in neutral situations.
But, "our interpretation is that many men consider embraces between men to be something negative; therefore, they tend to perceive hugs as negative even in a neutral situation, such as saying hello," explained Sebastian Ocklenburg from the varsity.
Accordingly, the right hemisphere is activated due to negative emotions and affects the motion to the left.
For the study, published in the journal Psychological Research, the team examined more than 2,500 hugs to determine the nature of positive and affectionate hugs. In order to study neutral embraces, they analysed over 500 clips of actors who offered blindfolded hugs to strangers on the street.
Moreover, the researchers asked 120 test participants to hug a mannequin after listening to various positive, negative and neutral short stories via headphones.