Apps and services offering to connect strangers looking to share a platonic cuddle are tapping into a market of people who are looking to fill an emotional need without any strings attached, says one researcher who specializes in intimate relationships.

Samantha Joel, a PhD psychology candidate from the University of Toronto, told CTV's Canada AM that one of the reasons why people seek human touch – like a cuddle -- is that it helps to foster a sense of belonging and connection.

"There's a lot of research showing that humans have this really fundamental need to belong, to feel connected with other people, and it's not always easy to get that need met," she said.

That's where cuddling apps and services could play a role.

Recently, the Vancouver-based business Cuddlery expanded its “cuddle with a stranger” services to Edmonton and Toronto. The business offers cuddle sessions ranging from 30 minutes to an hour, with prices ranging between $35 and $350.

And last year saw the launch of the Cuddlr app, which helps users locate and connect with strangers nearby for a free, platonic cuddle.

Joel said that while there isn't a lot of research on the specific effects of cuddling with strangers, there is research indicating that strangers can help fill the "belongingness need."

"You don't need to have an enduring bond with someone to feel emotionally connected with them" Joel said, giving the example of having an engaging conversation with a stranger on a bus.

She added that there may even be particular benefits to seeking out connections with strangers because they don't come with any "strings attached."

"It can be really threatening to seek intimacy and to make yourself vulnerable with someone you have an existing relationship with because there's so much at stake," she said, adding that when interacting with a stranger there's no great emotional investment or pressure to meet their needs.

"When it's a stranger, it's like 'Who cares? You might not even see them again,'" Joel said. "That might help a lot of people relax in order to get this connection need met in an easier way."

Exploring the 'grey area'

Cuddlr co-founder Damon Brown said he and his colleagues created their app after realizing that while there were many dating and "hook up" apps out there, there wasn’t one that addressed the desire to simply cuddle.

"In this case we wanted to explore that grey area between people who don't know each other and people who are hooking up," he told CTV's Canada AM from San Diego.

He said the Cuddlr app gives users the ability to go out and seek any type of platonic human touch, from hugs to hand-holding.

And much of the feedback the company receives about the app indicates that many of its users simply don't have many opportunities to connect with others.

Not everyone has family, friends or a partner nearby, Brown said.

He said he used the app recently to connect with someone at a local restaurant, where together they shared a hug. He said it was a good experience to be able to connect with someone who's not connected to something more complex, like sexual intimacy.

"It's just a matter of wanting to connect with someone at that moment," he said.