When it comes to physical affection, there is a noticeable difference between those who are “huggers” and those who aren’t.
Social distancing measures have all but a stop to physical affection, with hugs still considered a no-no when seeing family and friends. For those who thrive on physical affection, the COVID-19 age has been particularly difficult and has lead to the feeling of skin hunger.
Now, a study from the University of Arizona has investigated why some people are more affectionate than others. The research, published in the Communication Monographs journal, studied 464 pairs of adult twins — roughly half identical twins and half fraternal — between the ages of 19 and 84.
As twins are generally raised in the same household and have many of the same experiences growing up, researchers studied how environmental and genetic factors played a part in the expression of affection and how this differed from identical twins (who share 100% of genetic material) to fraternal twins (who share 50% genetic material).
“The question that drove the study was: Recognising that some people are more affectionate than others, what accounts for that variation and is any part of that variation genetic?” said Kory Floyd, a professor in the University Of Arizona College of Social and Behavioural Sciences.
Floyd and the team of researchers found that affectionate expressions in women were guided by genetics to a certain extent — roughly 45% — and environmental factors like upbringing at 55%.
The identical twins scored similarly when it came to their levels of expressing affection compared to the fraternal twins, which leads researchers to believe it is linked to genetics.
This was only true for women though, with the researchers unable to find a solid genetic influence when it came to expressions of affection in men. But the study also noted how men’s affection is largely guided by environmental influences, like the media and life experiences.
“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,” Floyd said.
“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.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all women are automatically affectionate, this study is talking on a general level.
If you’re struggling with the lack of physical affection during COVID-19, that is also biology at play.
“There’s something special about touch that I think relates back to the fact that we, as human beings, are born in such a state of immaturity that we have no ability to take care of our own needs,” Floyd said.
“Touch equals survival as infants. If we don’t have someone touching us and helping to meet our needs, then we don’t survive.”