Why Do Humans Hold Hands?

December 27th 2015

When it happens, you know it's special: I'm talking kissing palms.

Years after the sexual revolution, hand-holding hasn't gone out of style. But why is that?

It turns out there's science to our finger locking.

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There's a surprising reason we hold hands.

"Hand-holding is the one aspect that’s not been affected by the sexual revolution," Dr. Dalton Conley, a professor and chairman of the department of sociology at New York University, told The New York Times back in 2006.

“It’s less about sex than about a public demonstration about coupledom,” Dr. Conley said.

As casual sex and the nature of relationships change and become more widely accepted in our society, hand-holding might have more of an assigned meaning as a nonsexual act, Mic reports.

You don't necessarily have to be in a serious relationship, and it might not just be an old-school gesture or sign of affection. There might be a little more meaning to it today.

In one example, sex education teachers are noting that their gay students are talking about how holding hands when you walk together is a clear way to show and state sexuality: It's a form of communication.

“I think it remains more important in an era of perhaps more liberal sexual norms,” Conley said. “It remains this thing to be doled out.”

It's an act of affection, something comforting, or a way to show protection. Often in times of sadness or joy, people will hold hands. You can hang onto your partner in a crowded street by their hand and show that you are in a relationship — aka off the market.

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Your brain likes it when you reach out and touch (somebody's hand).

One study by the Journal Psychological Science found that touch can help promote better health and well-being. It can also help people respond better emotionally to the stressful things that happen in life.

A group of researchers from the University of Virginia and University of Wisconsin, Madison tested this theory in a somewhat cruel way. In this case, 16 married women were subjected to the threat of electric shock while holding on to their partner's hand, the hand of an anonymous male experimenter, or no hand at all.

When the husbands held their wives' hands, the parts of their wives' brains that register anxiety showed much less anxiety, ABC reports.

Strangers, on the other hand, did not make the women feel less distressed, according to the study.

There's a special power that comes from holding hands.

Our brains feel a rush of pleasure and a decrease of anxiety whenever we touch another person, as Mic notes. Physical touch lets out oxytocin, also known as "cuddle hormone" that makes you feel trust and bonding. Hand-holding can reduce pain and according to a 2009 University of California study, women who were subjected to moderately painful heat stimuli felt less discomfort when they held hands with their boyfriends during the experiment or were shown images of their significant other.

Even the mere thought of a loved one could bring comfort during a painful moment for a loved one, said study co-author Naomi Eisenberger, assistant professor of psychology and director of UCLA's Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory.

"This study demonstrates how much of an impact our social ties can have on our experience and fits with other work emphasizing the importance of social support for physical and mental health," Eisenberger said.

Hand-holding can vary by individual and couple.

Some people can't stand hand-holding and neither want to do it nor have the time for it. Take Dr. Eells of Cornell, who responded to The Times about his 15-year marriage:

“When do we make time to hold hands?,” said Dr. Eells of Cornell, talking about his own marriage of 15 years. “Not very often.”

Whether you palm to palm kiss or not, here's a little ditty about hand-holding from these four famous British guys:

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