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.”

Posted on: May 18, 2014.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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92 comments on “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.


      • 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 : )


      • 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 .


      • 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.


    • 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.


    • 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.


    • 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. 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 :)



    • 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. :)


      • 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.


  5. 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. :)


  6. 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 :-D

    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):
    Vanessa - “That poor dog was mistreated in the past” (Stranger #61)

    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


  7. 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!”