THURSDAY, Nov. 16, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- To make someone feel loved, a small gesture might be best, a new study suggests.
When Americans were asked what makes them feel loved, things such as showing compassion or snuggling with a child were tops.
The least effective measures? Controlling behaviors, such as wanting to know where someone is at all times.
"Whether we feel loved or not plays an important role in how we feel from day to day," said study author Saeideh Heshmati, a postdoctoral research scholar at Penn State University's College of Health and Human Development.
"We were curious about whether the majority of Americans could agree about what makes people feel loved on a daily basis, or if it was a more personal thing," Heshmati said in a university news release.
"Our results show that people do agree, and the top scenarios that came back weren't necessarily romantic," Heshmati added.
The bottom line: It's possible for people to feel loved in simple, everyday scenarios. "It doesn't have to be over-the-top gestures," Heshmati said.
The researchers presented nearly 500 U.S. adults with 60 scenarios, asking what would make people feel most loved.
"We found that behavioral actions -- rather than purely verbal expressions -- triggered more consensus as indicators of love. For example, more people agreed that a child snuggling with them was more loving than someone simply saying, 'I love you,' " Heshmati said.
"You might think they would score on the same level, but people were more in agreement about loving actions, where there's more authenticity perhaps, instead of a person just saying something," Heshmati added.
The researchers also found that possessive behaviors were considered among the least loving actions.
"In American culture, it seems that controlling or possessive behaviors are the ones people do not feel loved by," Heshmati said. "If someone wants to know where you are at all times, or acts controlling, those actions are not loving to us."
However, this could be a cultural phenomenon. "There's research showing that in more communal societies, these types of controlling behaviors may be seen as affection. But here in America we don't see it as loving," she said.
The study was published recently in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, has more on relationships.