If you've ever wondered if that somewhat stiff and awkward hug from your mother-in-law at your family's annual Christmas dinner was genuine, we've got news for you. A study from Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, set out to explore the subject of hugs and the effect emotions have on the whole hugging experience.
Researchers studied more than 3,000 hugs to determine if three things — people's feelings, whatever situation they're in at the given moment, and which hand they write with — have any affect on the way they hug.
Their first location of study? A German airport. Now, let's be honest: Airport arrivals and departures can be emotional experiences. Indeed, researchers found that individuals who were at the departure gate seemed negative, not only because they could have been saying goodbye to their friends and loved ones, but because many people (40 percent, according to the study) who fly feel some type of fear before their flight (also known as aviophobia). The hugs taking place on the arrival side, however, produced positive emotions.
The second part of the study involved watching a variety of YouTube clips of actors who were offering blindfolded hugs to strangers. In the final part experiment, researchers asked volunteers to hug a mannequin after listening to either positive or negative affirmations to see which side (either the left or right side) they hugged with.
The results found that while "humans show a significant rightward bias during embracing" — aka people tend to lean to their right when going in for a squeeze — most participants hugged to the left in both positive and negative emotional situations. The reason, researchers believe? Our brains are divided into two hemispheres, each of which controls the opposite side of the body — and since the right side of the brain controls emotion, a hugger is more likely to lean to the left when emotion is involved. Researchers also found huggers who were in a neutral context used their writing hand as a guide — so right-handed individuals went in for a hug toward the right, and vice versa.
Interesting, isn't it? If you're ready to put this theory to the test, try noticing which way you naturally lean when hugging the people you care about, especially if the moment is an emotionally charged one. And the next time you see your mother-in-law, pay close attention!