One boy studio isolated on blue wall hugging teddy bear tight

In late 2019 and early 2020, bushfires in Australia destroyed the habitats of millions of animals, as well as the homes of thousands of people. UNICEF calculated that the fires have affected 40 percent of Australian children in some way.

Many children felt traumatized by the fires, and because teddy bears have the power to comfort and soothe, UNICEF organized therapy sessions with handmade teddy bears that children could hold and cuddle.

Researchers are learning more about the emotions people feel toward teddy bears and then maintain throughout their lives. The science behind teddy bear hugs has the potential to help clinicians treat anxiety, reduce fear, and cope with trauma.

Read more: Should children be screened for anxiety?


Research has found that the comfort of teddy bears begins at an early age. For small children, teddy bears serve as source of confidence as they transition to become more independent from their parents. Touching teddy bears also gave the kids a chance who feel excluded to be more prosocial in their interactions with other children.

(Credit: George Rudy/Shutterstock)

To make life bearable

Psychologists in The 1950s turned to stuffed toys to see how children use teddy bears to cope when they feel insecure or scared. In recent years, psychologists have used teddy bears to help traumatized or frightened children respond to upsetting situations.

In an Israeli study, for example, preschoolers acted as parents to their teddy bears and allowed them to Teddy Bear Hospital. The children watched their bears undergo medical tests and receive vaccinations. They later showed less anxiety about the hospital setting compared to the control group. Likewise, children in a A German study visited a teddy bear hospital and demonstrated more health knowledge than a control group.

Thus, empirical studies have found that teddy bears are very good at reducing fear, providing comfort and enhancing knowledge. And a team of French scientists recently learned more about why teddy bears have the power to soothe.

Beary Comforting

IN 2022 study in The Journal of Positive Psychology, French researchers wanted to understand the physical and sensory characteristics that make a teddy bear huggable.

The team recruited 395 participants in 13 French cities. Sixty percent of participants were female, and the average age was 18. The average age was 12, and 75 percent of participants were under 27.

The team also recruited eight teddy bears in their study, including a panda, a baby blue bear long legged and fluffy chocolate brown bear. They called these eight stuffed animals “standard bears” and they were mailed from one test site to another.

Participants were invited to bring their own bears, and 48 percent brought their best. “Borrowed bears” were provided to participants who did not have any or brought a stuffed animal that did not meet the study criteria. (Only bears were accepted into the study. Alas, stuffed monsters, pigs or puppies were denied participation.)

The researchers gave participants a list of tasks that required them to spend time with their standard bear. Tasks include answering a questionnaire about their standard bear, measuring and taking pictures in a makeshift photo studio. Another standard bear, referred to as the “stranger bear,” was presented toward the end of the session.

Participants were asked which bear they were most likely to cuddle if they felt sad or scared—their own (or busy), a standard bear, or an unfamiliar bear.

Participants overwhelmingly preferred their own bears over standard and foreign bears. The responses revealed that they had a strong emotional connection with the bear they brought, which allowed them to see their bear as a source of comfort.

The study also found that participants rated larger bears as more comforting. The type of fur also mattered; softer bears are perceived as more comforting than bears with rough fur. The authors concluded that emotional connections were the strongest factor in whether a bear was perceived as comforting. Other characteristics, such as size and softness, also played a role.

Read more: The surprising benefits of emotional support animals

A century of hugs

The history of the teddy bear dates back to November 1902, when President Theodore Roosevelt was not having much luck in hunting trip in Mississippi. The other hunters in his party shot a black bear each, but Roosevelt failed. Given that he was POTUS, others in the group wanted to make sure he also caught a bear.

Several aides cornered a young bear, tied it to a tree and encouraged the president to make his best shot. Reporters watch as Roosevelt refuses to raise his rifle. He claims that shooting a wounded and trapped animal is not fair.

The story went viral, 1902 style and a political cartoonist mocked at president for being soft. Toy manufacturers responded with plush “teddy bears” that immediately became popular. One historian noted how teddy bears became popular when americans feared and hated wild bears.

Until 1930 teddy bears less they resembled scary versions of the wild and became more baby-like in their features. Teddy bears now have wide foreheads and small mouths and noses. Their faces are usually stitched into smiles rather than snarls.

(Credit: Elena Vyaseleva/Shutterstock)

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