Being a hugger might be hereditary, new study finds

Caroline Allen
Contributor
Some people enjoying hugging more than others. (Getty Images)

It’s a fact of life; some people enjoy a good hug more than others.

While some embrace everybody they meet with a big squeeze, others stand frozen to the spot when somebody tries to approach them for a hug.

In the past, we’ve just put that down to personal opinions, but as it turns out, it might be part of our genetic makeup.

Our genetics play a huge role in how affectionate women are, but the same can’t be said for men.

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In a study of twins, researchers at the University Arizona Department of Communication in the College of Social and Behavioural Sciences found that the levels of affection some people show is not just down to their environment, but also down to their genetics.

45% of a woman’s affectionate tendencies are a result of who their related to and 55% is down to environmental factors, which include the media, personal relationships and life experiences.

On the contrary, genetics don’t seem to affect how affectionate men are, meaning they’re mainly influenced by environmental factors - a fact that surprised the researchers.

“In my field, there is a really strong underlying assumption that whenever we see differences in a trait level in people's social behaviours - like how talkative they are or how shy they are or how affectionate they are - those differences are learned; they're a function of the environment.

“A study like this makes room for us to talk about the possibility that a number of social and behavioural traits that we automatically assume are learned may also have a genetic component,” lead researcher Kory Floyd explained.

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The researchers chose to look at how twins were affected by this, since they tend to grow up in the same households with the same opportunities, yet grow up to have differing personalities.

Each person involved in the study - a total of 464 sets of adult twins - was asked to complete a survey to determine how many affectionate tendencies they had.

Typically, men express less affection than women. This is something that has been scientifically evidenced in other studies. But, this doesn’t explain why they aren’t hereditarily impacted by by the affection gene.

Interestingly, how the twins were raised had little impact on how much they liked a good hug.

Mainly, the environmental factors that affected how much they liked to hug others were to do with their friendship groups and experiences away from their twins - not to do with their family.

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“When we measure people's tendency to be affectionate and to receive affection from other people, almost without exception we find that women score higher than men,” Floyd said.

“The trait of being affectionate may be more adaptive for women in an evolutionary sense. There is some speculation that affectionate behaviour is more health supportive for women than it is for men, and that it helps women to manage the effects of stress more than it does for men.

“That may be partly why women are more likely than men to inherit the tendency to behave that way rather than that tendency simply being a product of their environment.”