So I've been seeing a claim around a lot lately in various articles and "amazing fact" lists.

Positive Psychology News is one example:

after only 20 seconds of hugging a romantic partner, one can achieve a spike in oxytocin levels

They cite a TED talk

I can't seem to find the original source of the claim.

The closest I found was in this study referenced in the above article which states: (emphasis mine)

Couples were seated on a loveseat in a quiet room and instructed to sit close together, holding hands if they felt comfortable doing so. They were asked to talk about a time they had spent together that had made them feel closer as a couple (2 minutes). They then watched a 5-minute segment of a romantic video they had previously seen. They then were instructed to talk for 2 minutes about a time when they felt close as a couple. During this time, couples were unmonitored and unobserved except when the experimenter entered the room to give instructions. At the end of this session, partners stood for a 20-second hug.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but that seems like the 20 second hug wasn't isolated as the cause alone. Have there been any other studies that suggest the 20 second time frame? Did I miss something in that one?

  • 1
    What's the claim? If a couple hugs there's an Oxytocin spike? Or is the claim more general: If any two people hug there's an Oxytocin spike?
    – Christian
    Oct 22, 2012 at 23:05
  • @Christian I'd ask the same thing really, but one topic per question seems fairer. :P edit accidentally hit the post button there, but yeah, it seems to be only couples they've checked. Oct 22, 2012 at 23:37
  • @Christian In terms of what I want answered I suppose I'll accept any answer really, of couples or strangers. Once it's been proven to happen. Oct 22, 2012 at 23:43
  • The cited claim made is for romantic partners. Let's stick to that.
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 19, 2014 at 8:15
  • Browsing around, I found a lot of scientists upset at the exaggerated claims of Paul Zak in that TED Talk (and related publications). Haven't found any evidence for or against this claim though.
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 19, 2014 at 11:54

1 Answer 1




Social interactions in laboratory do not appear to elicit secretion of plasma OT. Cohabiting couples who undergo a 10-minute warm contact intervention in which they were instructed to sit close to each other, talk about their relationship, watch a romantic clip, and then hug each other do not exhibit an increase in plasma levels of OT after the interaction (Grewen, Girdler, Amico, & Light, 2005; Light, Grewen, & Amico, 2005).

Referring to studies that involved 20 second hugs.

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    I love it when these things get a straight answer.
    – Sklivvz
    Jun 11, 2015 at 16:26
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    According to the abstract of the paper they reference (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16046364) the partners who had a good relationship (self reported) had higher OT levels both before and after a 10minute warm-contact session. So it doesn't say anything about a spike, but I guess that could be interpreted as a 'no' for the 20 second hugging claim (or at least, it's not long lasting). I can't access the paper to find out the details. I'm thinking of marking this as the accepted answer though, since it's definitely helpful. Jun 12, 2015 at 17:12

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