Why Not Hug Strangers? – A Video Experiment

What happens when you hug strangers?

Andrew Hales of LAHWF wanted me to find out.

The above video took place in Dolores Park in San Francisco last Thursday, around 5:30pm. All people hugged are complete strangers.

Andrew challenged me to make the awkward even more awkward:

  • Could I score a hug by simply standing like a zombie with my arms out? (He’s good at this)
  • Could I go for the “long hold” and hug someone for 5 seconds, 10 seconds, or more?
  • Could I hug without saying anything? (Not my strong suit, it turns out)

To make things more interesting, Andrew accidentally–or purposefully?–started the filming at the famously gay southwest corner of Dolores.

Oh, boy…


In other news, if you’re looking for a short essay to jumpstart your week, this might be what the doctor ordered: “6 Formulas for More Output and Less Overwhelm.”

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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108 Replies to “Why Not Hug Strangers? – A Video Experiment”

  1. Loved the dog hug 😉

    Visibly you can do things in SF that would be impossible in Paris.

    They did a similar experience once in Paris asking just for a “smile” and almost nobody accepted even to smile to a stranger.

    SF’s a good place with warm people apparently.

    1. Agreed that SF is a unique place. That said, I suspect “Can I give you a hug?” would have yielded different results 🙂

      1. well said. i think key was being assumptive about it, presupposing it would be fine, that you’re safe and its all good. – great video, enjoyed seeing you (the classic introvert) out and about having fun : )

      2. Hi Tim

        I am traveling this summer . I will record the hugging video in all different city I visit and submit the video as a reply to you. Let’s see how people React for every hug .

      3. Sure, how you ask and which wording, if you’re George Clooney, what time of the day, where and after how many drinks… could be some key variables for different results 😉

        Perhaps it showed more comfort zone management than humanity. (except the dog hug and asking their names)

        For humanity measuring, what I love most is when people spontaneously help a stranger in high stress contextes like war or fire accidents.

        Taking high risk very spontaneously.

        There’s a famous video of 80’s of soldiers going through a mined field to save an ennemy injured helicopter pilot who was shooting them minutes before.

        Very high risk combined to very short time to decide. Best way of knowing who’s who.

      4. I am thinking this would go over well here in Colorado Springs where everyone is suddenly chill lately 😉

    2. A smile is quite different. It’s extremely hard to fake. While you can easily hug someone.

      And in the case of Paris, it’s not necessarily because Parisians are cold people. It also has to do with the fact French people don’t hug that much, even with friends. They prefer to kiss on the cheek usually.

      Cultural differences make it very hard to compare how warm people from different cities are. Because the meaning of a hug is vastly different from a place to another.

    3. I’d imagine that I was about to be robbed by Roma if someone was soliciting hugs in Europe. Check yo wallet.

    4. Funny. I saw the video on FB. Was inspired to set myself some random culturally appropriate challenges, for here-Paris. Decided to tell Tim thanks for the video inspiration and Voila- first comment is by a Parisian. Small world.

  2. Fantastic stuff Tim. When I was living in Osaka I would sometimes see people giving out free hugs, but the Japanese kept on walking. Not a very physically affectionate people. It was something I really grew to miss.

    1. Keren, I don’t know if the wink means you that already know where the backpack is from, but if you don’t: It was given out at The World Domination Summit in Portland in 2012. It’s a handy little thing!

  3. Wow! That is awesome. It made me realize that there are a lot of people out there who could really use a hug. Lol There is something amazing about two humans embracing each other. I think it is the coming together of two enormous sources of energy. Anyway. Thanks for having the kooyans to go out and hug people. 🙂 By the way, 4 hour work week on audio is great…

  4. I love that the first guy went for your ass! I would have done the same…you looked good in those pants, “honey.” 😉

  5. Cool video Tim. I wonder what would happen if I would do the same right here where I live – hm…. maybe I will 😀

  6. I think this experiment would have worked wonders in our neighborhoods of Kreuzberg, Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin.

  7. Cool experiment. Dolores park & SF in general is a special place

    To step up the game lets do it in the Financial District during lunch time, I’d be in 🙂


  8. Thats so awkward! I wonder how people would react in different parts of the world… we should crowdsource an experiment!

    1. I did an art project which included researching the contagiousness of smiling. We experienced significant differences in the responses from people if we were filming in the Nordic countries versus in the South of Europe. So I totally agree with your reflection about how people in different cultures will react differently to hugging. I think there would be less aggressiveness in the world if people were hugging more – so keep hugging. Even if it is awkward – at first. 🙂

      1. I’ve seen a few comments similar to this one and I can’t not reply… I’m from Montreal (Canada) and being born 13 hrs north of that city, people around me had the assumption “Oh people in Montreal are really cold and don’t talk to each other” and this was so un-true. I’ve been living there for the past 7 years and I love it, and people are as friendly and open “as you are”. Although I’m sure other cities could be slightly different (ex: Ottawa), in general people are friendly by default, it’s the human nature. It’s the approach that matter.

        I knew a girl who had that mentality and she came to see me in MTL and she walked around with an aggressive stare, ever judging and totally feeling and oozing “I hate this place” from all pores of her body and of course people were not nice, not open to talking to her.

        As I said in another post on this page, I’m doing a project where i must ask strangers to be taken in picture. And I can tell you this from my small, 63 strangers experience: if I get rejected, it’s 95% my fault (5% being random: “gotta go”, mad, so forth). It’s all body language, smile, genuine happiness and will to talk to them, your posture (don’t be too distant from the subject or insecure, otherwise it’s almost always “no”), etc. But there is also a bit of “choosing” your stranger: pick someone that seem to have time or is not in the middle of something (unless you like challenges).

        I’m in for a crowdsourcing smile or “free basic hug, 2$ supreme hug” project and posting it online as video. Something from all countries around the world would be epic.

  9. Ha ha… Love this 🙂 I’m working with exec teams and always try to get them to hug more often. It is good for their career 🙂 I guess you know about the awesome art project of New York photographer Richard Renaldi? He began shooting the “Touching Strangers” project six years ago and now has hundreds of portraits of unlikely intimates. You can watch the CBS report covering his project http://youtu.be/SIVEMWjlZSw or read more about it in the Huffington Post article Touching Strangers. 🙂

  10. I love it! I hug people for a living. The 10 minute hugs are my specialty – such a potent healing opportunity.

  11. Awesome!! I love social experiments… God in a way, it’s so painful to watch but at the same time, kudos, that must have been hard to get the courage to do!

    I’m doing something similar to “Humans of New York” right now called “100 Strangers” and it’s life changing. The goal is to go to complete strangers and ask for a picture and a short story. At first, it’s really hard to get anybody to say yes, but as you build some courage or social skills you get better at it and now I’m around 9 “yes” on 10 people. It’s really good to get outside your comfort zone, break assumptions, reduce your fear of approach, and practice letting the others talk and as well as get great stories from strangers. If you have a camera (DSLR, or even just your phone), this is a fantastic project to try out to face your fears and grow 😀

    Here’s an example of a stranger from my 100 Strangers set (my last 10 pics + stories are getting better, this is a work in progress):


    If the link is removed, just go on Flickr and search for the 100 Strangers group!

    Keep doing social experiments Tim, that’s really awsome

  12. Tim! Fabulous! Did you notice that you leaned in when you hugged to keep your pelvis far away from strangers? And that gay men were much more likely to openly hug? “Go hug everybody honey, you’re so gorgeous!”

  13. Made me teary-eyed. I need a hug, Tim :'( Reading your book now (4HWW). I hope to be able to apply it in my life ASAP.



  14. Hey Tim,

    I really like the new format of a 10-15 minute answer to a question! I have always wanted to hear about the top 5 parameters you look at when you have new blood test results and why. Maybe you could touch on certain blood parameters that you think are underestimated (I believe you mentioned myristic acid in the 4-Hour Chef) or underexploited. Just throwing out some ideas.

    Thanks for all the great information!


    P.S. A new article came out proving that Cissus Quadrangularis Extract completely restored testosterone production in mice treated with quinalphos, an endocrine disruptor. It is an amazing supplement!

  15. You have officially lost your goddamn mind, congratulations Tim….But your still cool as hell in my book.

  16. Great video and a great experiment.

    But, Tim, loved the first guy who you hugged who literally went in for the not even remotely subtle ass grab. LMAO

  17. It’d be really interesting to also have a girl do this experiment. I bet people would react really differently to a girl trying to hug them vs. a dude.

    1. I totally agree. A strange guy wanting a hug from a girl is creepy at best. The opposite is not true.

  18. Tim loved the 6 Formula piece. Great tips to start my work week with a more productively aware mindset.

  19. Dear Tim

    Please enjoy my Übermensch recipe,

    In a bowl of 80%-20% principles (*SUBSTITUTE 99:1)

    Mix ingredients with your trusty fear setting spoon

    *GINGERLY AT FIRST, we would not want to have to call someone else to clean up ; )

    social fluency

    person refactoring

    work life balance

    mental noise cancellation

    communication theory

    data stream

    out source the micro details

    dail resolution back

    universals of streamlining


    (*it WILL NOT RISE to its FULL POTENTIAL without them)

    the dash of human synergy…. wait, looks like that was just added to the bowl

    infographics and rapid communication theory

    universals of streamlining

    ….and some other stuff

    *To BATCH THE RECIPE to feed EVERYONE bring SPECIAL guests: Ramit Sethi, Hans Rosling, and Al Roback to YOUR KITCHEN. Better yet, JUST BROAD STROKE it. Yeah, lets ONlY PLAY TO OUR STRENGTHS and stick to the INNATE lust to COMPILE what Michelin star chefs’ recommend as tidbits.

  20. Loved this! Everyone that got a hug walked away smiling. I really hope this wasn’t edited and your very first hug resulted in a bonus ass grab!

  21. Why not add episode 6 of podcast to the blog?

    *People might be missing it.

    *I want to give you feedback on it.

  22. I absolutely LOVED this :)))) in my experience the gay community and those who socialise with gay people are always so friendly and open and it’s not surprising the hugs were reciprocated without hesitation for the most part. They have such good energy. Even just watching this video made me all warm and fuzzy :)) I hope the results are the same irrespective of the location. Dawn X

  23. Love this. Sometimes I wish someone would just come hug me without wanting anything but a hug back. Just a hug to say “I see you”.

    I’d Love to see how this would go down in the UK actually! I feel we are possibly too guarded and suspicious for it to work, although deep down I believe we’d all love to break out of our protective “I’m-indestructible” bubbles & feel less alone.

    xox Kell xox

  24. Lovely stuff…but watch out as my husband hugged a stranger in Barcelona (admittedly rather drunk) and got his phone stolen…..apparently its a common scam in many cities.

  25. Why does this remind me of the scene in Borat where nothing in the U.S. made sense to Borat until he met the gay guys?

    I want to see zombie guy with a sign hanging around his neck that says, “Bring me back to life with a hug.”

  26. Tim, I didn’t know you were so short. Any tips on what short men can do to feel as confident as you do?

  27. I used a former non hugger. I was raised in a pretty conservative home and once I hit puberty I was self conscious of breasts touching people. So when I did hug it was super awkward. In my early twenties I had amassed a great group of girlfriends and everyone hugged all the time. Like any good friends would do they called me out on my horrible hugging. Eventually I got over the uncomfortableness. This video made me realize that I still don’t initiate hugs.

    Thanks for the social experiment inspiration this week!

  28. Great video. I also plan a “huggin’ session” here with a friend, we’ll hug strangers near the station. Let’s see how it turns out in a place where hugs are not common and sometimes seen as weird (here people kiss on the cheek = “faire la bise”)… I’m in Versoix near Geneva (Switzerland), let’s see if it’s as cool as San Fran 🙂

  29. More goodness being spread. Awesome! Love seeing this stuff. It reminds me of the +ve connections we can all make, as shown in Tom Shadyac’s doc “I Am”. It also encourages and reminds me to continue to develop my Hugs mobile app!

  30. Well done guys! I did a smiling experiment in a more built up part of the coastal area I live in. I went in with the idea that; ‘You can fashion those lips to reverse the dip, with a little muscular persuasion on any occasion’. And I did. I got almost everyone to smile, even those who seemed to be practicing sad puppy dog face. Alas I was without camera or companion. But still I think, ‘a Smile is the classic look in Style’, not too mention everyone is so good-looking when they’re grinning. Thanks for sharing your wonderful hugging experience.

  31. Glad to see you are cozy with strangers. My girlfriend was worried you were going to take me out MMA style at SXSW 2013. We happened to run into you on the sidewalk and I placed my hand on your shoulder as I gushed like a fanboy how you had changed my life, etc. Luckily you broke the awkwardness by introducing yourself to my girlfriend. Good play sir. She still talks about how I shouldn’t place my hand on people’s shoulders. Fair warning, next time I’m going in for the hug brother!

  32. That is awesome! I love the hugging! It’s crazy that most of the time I walk by people and say hi and smile and they do NOTHING. Friendliness is always a good thing. Sad that people aren’t more friendly.

  33. Well done Tim! That was fantastic! Not sure you would get so many hugs here in Europe!!! SF ppl are reputedly cool. Loved the one who fancied u@the end ” u go gorgeous”‘! Spread more Love! ( i may just do the experiment too)

  34. This video definitely made me smile! By the way, LOVING your podcast! I get so excited every time a new one comes out. Keep up the good work.

  35. Simply awesome! I love the video and the idea! It put a big smile on my face. You made my day Tim. Thank you!

  36. I say this respectfully, but hugging in SF is like asking a child if she wants ice cream. Try hugging strangers in Philadelphia….the outcome may not be so pretty :^)

  37. This is BRAVE! People’s reactions are really amusing…! Especially when you pretended to know them! ha!

    I’ve done a ‘free hugs’ video and that’s totally different…people approaching YOU for hugs. Brave to approach people to hug you instead!

  38. Regarding “6 Formulas for More Output and Less Overwhelm”, I digged the format. But definitely prefer the ultra long format.

  39. Man, the difference in body language between the two of you (Tim was smiling, confident, warm, that arm technique) vs Andrew (super shut down, awkward, not smiling) resulted in night and day differences in how people responded. Pretty amazing demonstration of how effective your body language can be at either opening people up or closing people off before you even open your mouth. I’m adding this to my practice of how I interact with folks. The real takeaway of course is that Tim, you most likely made people’s day, while Andrew left them feel icky (I’m not saying Andrew sucks, I’m merely pointing out the effect his body language had on people). The ripples you create in the moment spread and spread. Great job guys!

  40. This is hilarious. This is also a great way to get out of your comfort zone. I’m going to do this on Monday.

  41. This is simultaneously the hardest and easiest thing I have ever done and I had a sign that said “Free Hugs”. More interesting, in our experiment, who in our group was willing and who was resistant. You were patient and beautiful in this experiment!

  42. Love it!!! A hug can change someone’s day and ultimately their life. Unfortunately, far too many of us do not get our share of love and personal contact.

    I would live to give a shout out to my dear friends at Hug It Forward. They started on their quest 5+ years ago to change the world 1 hug at a time. Now, they’ve catapulted on that momentum and have built 20+ schools in third world countries.

    Hugs are powerful. 🙂

  43. that was an interesting experiment, was cool but. Was it just me, but were people more responsive to you Tim.

  44. I’ve been doing this since 2008 globally; same response: Open Arms, Smiles, HUGS, and what’s most important, Conversations. Homeless, Executives, Teenagers, Across Cultures and Age. Awesome. Here’s my TEDx from Warsaw Poland about it: http://youtu.be/Pap6TW3y-k0?t=7s

  45. Wouldn’t it be cool to design a company around hugging people? The business model is hugs or dollars. If you don’t want to hug, give a dollar instead in support of a non-profit cause. I bet a lot of people would donate the dollar.

  46. Every day’s a different and a same day. Different because all of us have different lives, different problems, moods and experiences. Same because it’s the particular same day everybody would live. Hugging different people would not make the same result all the time. One might box in the face, one might hug you back, one might run away, or worse one might call a police to have you arrested for harassment (we might not know). It was a great social and cultural experiment, I might say, as one would know how these people would react within different situations they might be in.

  47. This is very cool and awkward.. But maybe I can do that for a charity, hugs for 5pesos.. Nice one on the experiment!:)

  48. Try this standing outside on the sidewalk of a Tony Robbins UPW event – you will get almost everybody to give you a hug.

  49. Culture will always be considered to this. Some would think no big deal about it, some may have. But people with open minded could always give a free hug. That could be a friendly way to gain more friends.

  50. Very fun exoeriment! My favorite part was when you hugged the dog. I wonder if the results would be different if a woman was doing the hugging. Do you know if there is any research on that?

  51. Interesting it felt like Tim felt more comfortable with doing this and so seemed to get more favorable responses. Just wondering how you felt about it Tim because it kind of looked like your heart was in it and it was kind of enjoyable ?

  52. So, how did it make you feel? Were you uncomfortable? Did you feel more connected? More accepted? Did it give you a sense of freedom? Did you feel more exhausted afterward? I find people that are empathic tend to feel either extremely energetic or extremely tired after hugging multiple people. In the way that I am and what I teach (or rather guide) I encourage people to make a new physical contact every day; hand shake, shoulder touch, hug, kiss. Hugging is my personal preference but, I’m a cuddle bunny; although you would be surprised how many people love kissing a stranger.

    Good for you for stepping out of your comfort zone and trying to get others to do the same.

  53. I love this…I am going to do this a courthouse bus stop this week. I will let you know how it goes…I am normally NOT a hugger.

  54. Interesting reactions from people, and from you. The Boston terrier woman would have had no problem hugging Andrew if he told her he had a boston before he hugged her, I think.Same with the pug owners and you. Dogs are a pre-approval sign, for othre dog people.

    The fact that you provided the explanation after, almost as an apology, is also interesting. Was it too uncomfortable to provide none?

  55. Looks like you had more success with hugging men than women. But this makes sense because women are more concerned about their physical safety.

  56. Loved the video! We did a similar experiment in the Stockholm subway. Having a cardboard sign that says ‘free hugs’ works great. As does wearing a unicorn hat. Keep the free hugs flowing!

  57. Couchsurfing worldwide organization has FREE HUGS movement, have done that and it was my best experience ever.. =0 Loved the video and it’s harder to come up to someone. We were standing with the sing and people decide for themselves if they can come and give a hug. I hugged an elderly women, who hasn’t been hugged for a few years because she didn’t have family any,ore, anyone..it was emotional and so pure…

  58. The links to the article on 6 Formulas for more productivity and less overwhelm seem to be linking to somewhere else, unless I am missing something.

    By the way, thanks Tim for the heads-up on IFS. My only question is when does the wailing stop? I am 4 months in.

    As for this video, I prefer the idea of offering Free Hugs and letting people come to you. I had similar childhood experiences to you (except for me it included my own father) I find the question of consent important.