“HuggieBot 1.0” is a machine that provides a substitute for loving hugs that the world is short on during this pandemic. And despite its inanimate nature, many people enjoy its embrace, according to Alexis Block, the developer at the Max Plank Institute for Intelligent Systems. But if the idea of an automated hug seems kind of nuts (and bolts), there’s good news from Ohio State University’s department of psychology.
In a paper published online in the Journal of Positive Psychology, the researchers found that simply validating someone’s negative emotions (sadness, confusion, anger, boredom, frustration, etc.) can boost their mood and provide the kind of calming reassurance that a hug transmits. Validating: “Of course you’d be confused about that” or “I get that you feel angry.” Invalidating: “Why would that make you angry?” or “Get over it.”
Research shows hugs lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and boost the bonding hormone oxytocin, lowering blood pressure and improving your mood. Validation can do the same — offering a way for someone you care about to cool down and feel understood and appreciated. And you reap rewards too: You become part of a caring circle, which is the foundation of good emotional health.
Study after study also has found that people with solid emotional connections have better long-term health. So if you’re stuck with Zoom embraces, be reassured that your understanding and care, even if delivered digitally, can encircle another person with kindness and reassurance and make you both happier and healthier, no HuggieBot needed.