Some primates spend 20 percent of the day touching and grooming each other, and in doing so, they bolster community, security, and physical health. Humans unfortunately don’t come close. Americans in particular are noted as being particularly uncomfortable with touch. While we may scoff at these new ideas of the effectiveness of physical touch and our need for it (thanks to our super touch-averse Victorian ancestors), at some level we know we need it. As skin expert Nina Jablonski points out, nail and hair salons and massage therapists have thriving industries for a reason. We just like to have a practical excuse for it.
However, we don’t need to look far for reasons that legitimize our need for physical contact. As the oldest sensory system known to mankind, touch is vital to our well being, and stress ensues if our need for it isn’t met.
*Sources for this information come from Berkeley researcher Dacher Keltman http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hands_on_research and Penn State University anthropologist Nina Jablonski’s book skin
- Those with greater social touching experience less stress.
- In growing years, tactile satisfaction is critical for behavioral development and a greater sense of self-efficacy. Those deprived of nurturing touch but subjected to routine physical punishment are prone to serious behavior disturbance, drug addiction and physical violence.
- The skin contains the first line of immunity and social touch helps build its strength.
- An NBA team success increases with more touch- the amount of high fives, fist and chest bumps, embraces, pats on the back, and other tactile encouragement can predict a team’s success rate. Higher rate of touch equals more success.
- Trust and cooperation increase with touch.
- Provides feelings of reward- activates frontal cortex, the site of reward and compassion in the brain
- Reinforces reciprocity- builds cooperative relationships, grooming builds cooperative alliances
- Signals safety and trust
- Soothes- Activates vagus nerve, leads to oxytocin release, calms cardiovascular response, makes people more cooperative
- Touching premature babies helps premature babies gain weight and infants who are touched more frequently grow faster.
- Patients with Alzeimer’s and engaging them in social touch decreases their depression and symtoms of disease.
- Teachers who pat students on the back in a friendly way get students to respond and participate more.
- Librarians who touch students on the hand have students who view the library as more enjoyable and are more likely to come back.
- Doctors who touch patients in friendly way have higher patient survival rates.
Anyone else feel like a hug? Damn those stoic Victorians! The good news is that by simple practices, we can build a culture around us that supports our need for touch. Hugs and kisses on the cheek when greeting friends, high fives and fist bumps for affirmation, touches on the arm and hand for comfort, and pats on the back for encouragement are all natural ways to incorporate touch into your relationships of any sort.