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Does Hugging Make Children More Kind?

Smiling woman hugging two children

The brain has a chemical that can increase altruism and prosocial behavior. This hormone is called oxytocin. It was once thought to only be relevant during the bonding period between a mom and baby, and between romantic partners. Research, however, suggests that increased levels of oxytocin can in fact even help children and adults being more social.

The Evolving Role of Oxytocin

Oxytocin is made in the hippocampus, a centrally located region in the brain, whenever individuals come in contact with another. The brain cannot increase oxytocin when we’re alone. It will only produce it when we are bonding with someone else. Research has found that interacting with loved ones can increase oxytocin production. It especially increases when people hug.

Oxytocin also plays a vital role in building trust and encourages cooperation, empathy, and generosity. Some research has also suggested it aids in learning, memory, reward, and reducing addictive behavior.

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder often struggle with social skills and the inability to bond in traditional ways. This caused psychology researchers to test oxytocin treatments. In the initial study, a nasal spray seemed to help autistic individuals navigate social situations, but subsequent studies have had mixed results. So, while some physicians swear by the treatment, psychologists aren’t so sure. That being said, experts are still testing the concept.

Prosocial Behaviors and the Bonding Hormone

Research suggests that social behavior may be driven by oxytocin. Research has also found that individuals who perform more social acts generally have better mental health overall. They’re happier people. Doing something good for someone else reduces anxiety, guilt, and other negative emotions. This could mean that hugging children, not only makes them more kind and social but also happier and less anxious.

It also has a contagious effect. Watching kindness encourages us to act kinder ourselves. We tend to do more prosocial acts when seeing others do them, so it could spread well beyond the household. All in all, hugging your children could make society a friendlier place.


Parents want to encourage their children to be good people. They model good behavior, encourage children to help others, and applaud schools that include prosocial behavior in their curriculum. So, wouldn’t it be nice if all it took were a few extra hugs?


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