The secret of the comforting power of teddy bears

Scientists from the University of Montpellier, Paul Valéry University, Aix-Marseille, CNRS, IRD and the Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) have investigated the secret of the comforting power of teddy bears. Through an innovative participatory experiment with a thousand participants aged 3 to 72 years, and by studying the characteristics of hundreds of teddy bears, they showed that emotional bonding plays a much more important role in comforting than any other characteristic. Work published on January 30, 2023 in The Journal of positive Psychology.

The teddy bear is a transitional object, it brings comfort and security by replacing the attachment figures, and thus allows to better manage the stress related to the separation. The teddy bear is the king of plush toys, and has occupied an important place in Western homes since the beginning of the 20th century, including among adults.

A participatory study

During the 2019 Researchers' Night, a participatory study was conducted in 13 French cities to collect the photographs and characteristics of several hundred teddy bears brought by a thousand participants. Using a questionnaire, the physical, olfactory and kinesthetic characteristics (softness, ease of handling, etc.) of the bears were measured by the participants. They were then asked to compare the comforting power of their bear with eight other teddy bears. The procedure was then repeated, using another bear with which the participants had no emotional connection.

A predominantly emotional bond

Comfort scores were calculated for each of the bears, depending on whether they were rated by their "owner" or by another person. The results show that participants overestimated the comforting power of their bear, illustrating the strong effect of the emotional bond. In addition to this effect, the results also show a significant effect of softness, volume, being pleasant to handle and to look at. The comfort score was not related to the gender of the participants nor to their age: the perception of the comfort of a teddy bear does not change over the course of life and is not biased by a gender stereotype effect, unlike other objects related to childhood (such as dolls or fire trucks).

Before this one, no study had looked precisely at the characteristics taken into account during the attribution of this comforting power (size of the teddy bear, length of the hairs, diameter of the eyes, etc.).

" This work opens up promising avenues for studying the psychological functioning of individuals thanks to teddy bears, but above all it suggests a form of predictability of their comforting power which could allow the list of uses to be extended, for example, at school, in hospital, at work, during negotiations, in crisis situations " concludes Thierry Brassac, scientific mediator at the University of Montpellier.