University of Arizona professor argues for more affectionate society

In this file photo, the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center is pictured on the UConn campus in Storrs, Connecticut. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

University of Arizona Professor Doctor Kory Floyd discussed the important of being prosocial and the linkage between interpersonal communication and health In a lecture sponsored by the UConn Department of Communication Tuesday.

The event, part of the department’s lecture series commenced on Tuesday after overcoming some technical difficulties. The lecture was set to begin at 12:30 p.m. in the Konover Auditorium at the Dodd Center, but was delayed for 11 minutes.

Floyd is a professor of interpersonal communication at the University of Arizona and the author of twelve books including “The Loneliness Cure: Six Strategies for finding Real Connections in Your Life.”  

Floyd began the lecture with an anecdote on a bad day he once had, and how, to cheer him up, a peer gave him a hug.  

“I was amazed how such a small gesture could have such a profound effect on my well being,” Floyd said.  

Floyd continued his discussion by explaining how, human beings’ status as the most social primates does not mean they are always prosocial.  Prosocial behavior includes acts of affection.  Affectionate communication comprises verbal affection such as a compliment, non-verbal affection such as a hug or a kiss and supportive affection such as the provision of a favor for someone. 

“We are savvy enough to know that people can use affection for ulterior motives,” Floyd added, describing how affectionate communication is governed by rules based on culture, sex and sex composition, the type of relationship and the social setting.  

Expressing affection, Floyd said, carries risks like non-reciprocity, misinterpretation, social or cultural censure and disease transmission. Being on the receiving end results in potential obligation for reciprocity, relation boundary ambiguity and manipulation.  

This raises the question: why be affectionate at all?  To which Floyd answered that affection is a fundamental human need.

“From infancy on, we require affection to survive due to the advanced state of dependency in which we are born,” Dr. Floyd said.

According to the USDA, it costs about a quarter of a million dollars for parents in the US to raise the average child to the age of eighteen, an amount that might seem ludicrous. This raises a question: why do we invest so much in children?

“How has that little infant tricked us to invest in it and take care of all its needs?” Dr. Floyd asked the audience.

The answer, Dr. Floyd said, is that it is necessary to human continuity and the survival of our species.  Dr. Floyd found that satisfying physical human contact is essential to one’s health.  He observed that affection characterizes the most significant relationships in terms of evolutionary success.  This led him to propose that it evolved for a reason.

Affections maintain personal relationships and, according to Dr. Floyd’s research, highly affectionate people are more likely to be in a significant romantic relationship and to get satisfaction from it.  They recover from acute stress faster and have a higher natural killer cell, cytotoxicity, gives them stronger immune systems. According to Dr. Floyd’s research, they also have healthier hormonal responses and rhythms. 

“None of this means go hug strangers on the street. That would not help with stress buffering, but would help to become incarcerated where, ironically, you may end up with more affection - not necessarily the kind you want,” Floyd said. 

Floyd stressed that his research does not mean that it is time for a revolution in human behavior. Knowing when to be affectionate, he argued, is a crucial part of being social, while being too affectionate at the wrong time can have consequences.


Eric Mooney is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at eric.mooney@uconn.edu.