Hugs and Cortisol Awakening Response the Next Day: An Ecological Momentary Assessment Study

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Mar 30;20(7):5340. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20075340.


Previous research suggests that affectionate touch such as hugs might downregulate stress systems such as the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. However, the current literature lacks in generalizability beyond the laboratory setting and outside the context of romantic relationships. The cortisol awakening response (CAR) is a measure of the HPA axis and is responsive to daily fluctuations in stress and social information. However, associations between affectionate touch and the CAR have never been assessed. This study used ecological momentary assessment (EMA) to measure daily hugging behaviors in 104 first-year college students and salivary cortisol to assess the CAR. Participants who reported more daily hugs in their social interactions had significantly smaller CARs the next morning compared to days they reported fewer hugs. This study contributes to the literature on social interactions and stress responsive systems and emphasizes the importance of assessing affectionate touch behaviors such as hugs that can be exchanged outside the context of romantic relationships.

Keywords: affectionate touch; cortisol awakening response; ecological momentary assessment; hugging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Rhythm* / physiology
  • Ecological Momentary Assessment
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology
  • Saliva
  • Wakefulness / physiology


  • Hydrocortisone

Grants and funding

This research was funded by the University of California Multicampus Programs and Initiatives award MR-15-328794, the University of California Merced Housing and Residence Life, and the University of California Merced Startup Research Funds (PI Jenny Howell; PI Jitske Tiemensma).