BOCHUM, Germany —Women who hug their partner reduce their stress levels, new research reveals. However, a team in Germany finds hugging a lover does not have the same positive outcome for men.

Researchers say their findings suggest that hugging their romantic partner before a stressful event – such as an exam, job interview, or presentation – will help keep anxiety levels down for women. They discovered that women who embraced their other half before undergoing a stressful experience had a lower biological stress response, as indicated by levels of the stress hormone cortisol in saliva.

“As a woman, hugging your romantic partner can prevent the acute stress response of your body,” says study leader Gesa Berretz from Ruhr University in a media release.

Researchers add that in some settings, social touch may buffer against stress. Previous research has also found that massages, hugs combined with handholding, and hugs combined with affectionate communication can all lower stress in women. However, few studies have looked at this phenomenon in men.

Do hugs also lower blood pressure?

To explore potential stress-reducing effects of embracing, Berretz and the team conducted an analysis of 76 people in romantic relationships. All the participants underwent a stress-inducing test in which they had to keep one hand in an ice-water bath for three minutes while maintaining eye contact with a camera.

Before the test, half of the couples embraced, while the others didn’t. The researchers measured several indicators of stress – including the participants’ salivary cortisol levels – before and after the experiment.

Results revealed that women who hugged their partner had a lower cortisol response to the stress test than women who did not hug their partner. Conversely, men did not display the same drop in stress-induced cortisol levels. Meanwhile, other measures of stress including changes in blood pressure and a person’s emotional state did not show any link to hugging a partner.

Researchers add that these results suggest that a brief hug with a romantic partner could help women facing stressful social situations. Further research is still necessary to find out whether the benefit of a hug extends to embraces with platonic friends. Researchers also believe there needs to be a study on how hugging helps during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These investigations could explore whether social restrictions that reduced social contact have led to increases in stress and depression among people in lockdown.

The findings are published in the journal PLoS One.