Hugs and emotions at the Olympics

Friday, 27 July, 2012

This summer the Olympic Games will take place in London from July 27 to August 12. The city is expecting between 500,000 and 1,000,000 visitors. Can you imagine the excitement such a crowd can bring to a city?

What kind of research is conducted related to sports, behavior, or large scale events? There are many behavioral researchers looking into horse-rider interaction, coach – athlete interaction, and patterns in behavior such as ‘on-the-ball behaviors’ in soccer. But, there are also researchers looking into how people behave in crowds.


There is no doubt that sports generate powerful emotional responses. For example, supporters watching sports matches often become quite emotional. Whether at home watching television, or at the stadium close to the heat of the battle, many supporters express their emotions by shouting or yelling, or by looking sad or extremely happy. They really feel the team’s success or failure afterwards. These emotions can be analyzed automatically.

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Hugs at the 2008 Olympics

Emese Nagy, School of Psychology, University of Dundee (2011) observed and coded spontaneous embraces during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. A total of 188 embraces were analyzed. It concerned hugs between athletes, coach-athlete embraces, or supporter-athlete embraces. She found that spontaneous embraces last for about 3 seconds. No differences were found on the gender front.

Female, male, mixed, The Observer software that was used for analysis, showed that there was no difference in durations.

There was a difference though when it concerned teammates or opponents. Obviously, when hugging an opponent, the embrace lasted for a shorter amount of time compared to hugging a coach or teammate. Interestingly, the continent of origin had influence on the duration of touch. Touch here is defined as touching the other individual before or after the embrace.

Nagy presents: Athletes from the American continent touched each other for a significantly shorter time compared with athletes from Asia. So what can explain these 3 second hugs? The results reinforce an idea that intervals of about 3 seconds are basic temporal units of life that define our perception of the present moment (the feeling of now). Nagy suggests that more observational research can result in more insight in human hug behavior. 

Exciting research! Let’s see what the 2012 Olympic Games will bring us! There must be one researcher looking into emotions or embraces.

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  • Nagy, E. (2011). Sharing the moment: the duration of embraces in humans. Journal of Ethology29, 389-393.