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  • Writer's pictureJena Ball

Need a Hug?

One of the biggest complaints I hear about social distancing has to do with the lack of physical contact. People really miss being able to give and gets hugs – a universal and welcome reminder that someone cares.

While I can’t single-handedly flatten the viral curve, I can recommend an unusual but effective solution – get an avatar. It turns out that there is solid scientific evidence to support my claim that hugging other avatars feels real and can have a positive impact on your mood.

According to an article published by Scientific American, “Brain-imaging research suggests that people project themselves onto their avatars.” And the more we identify with those avatars, the more real their experiences seem to our brains.

To test my point, I've been asking others in Second Life what social distancing has been like for them. Then, whenever it seems appropriate, I offer them a hug. Only one person has turned me down. The rest took me up on my offer, and I have to say that it's been both heartwarming and educational. Even if the avatars' arms are pixels, the warmth and care have been real, and I've heard some lovely stories of courage, strength, and determination.

But don’t take my word for it. I've set up a virtual “Hug Station” at my home in Second Life where folks can come to get and give a hug. Here is the SLURL (a URL in Second Life) that will bring you to the station:

If you are not familiar with Second Life, getting an account and an avatar are FREE. You will have to download a viewer (the interface between your computer and Second Life servers), but it's not hard. Here's what to do:

1. Go to and follow the instructions. You will be prompted to download the viewer provided by Linden Lab (the makers of SL), but I would recommend Firestorm. If you'd prefer not to do that, simply follow the links to download the default viewer and log in.

2. To download and install the Firestorm viewer:

3. Launch the viewer, enter your name and password. You will be asked to accept the terms of service and then find yourself in a newbie training area.

4. Go to School: Once you arrive in Second Life you will find yourself in the beginner's area. I recommend going through the tutorial. It's fun and will teach you important skills.

5. Find your search bar (the icon of a magnifying glass) and search for my name - Jenaia Morane. Once my name comes up, click on the Profile button, then the Offer Friendship button. That will send me a message saying you want to connect.

If you are already a Second Life user, I hope you will grab a friend or significant other and stop by for a hug. Take a photo, drop it into my inventory, and tell me how you've been managing during these challenging times.

I'll see you inworld!

P.S. If you're curious about the neuroscience I was referring to, visit:

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