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The Science Of Touch

September 21, 2016


"To touch is to give life"- Michelangelo


I would like to share some great facts and research on the science of touch. 

When my son was diagnosed with ASD he had required an amazing portion of our time to be held or to be touched. On the other side, he couldn't tolerate other people's touch or contact of his skin with so many materials. 


I remember a time when I couldn't leave him out of my arms for 5 minutes. His nervous system was seeking that input of touch, and deep pressure. For almost 7 years I had to lay down with him at night and apply deep soothing pressure at his body with my arm and half of my torso in order for him to fall asleep. There was a time when he would wake up if I move or change my position.


For sleep deprived parent, some sleep is better than no sleep at all and I had used that specific position to get him and me some rest. Along with that sleeping pattern, came twisted shoulder and back rib out of place which gave me a lot of pain. But now,  I am not writing about the pain I am writing about all amazing benefits you can get from touch. 


"Real act of compassion is touch!"


Our hands have amazing abilities and they are different from the other non-human primates. With hands we can use tools properly, we can communicate,using them to give signals and signs to the other person, we can also grip and take care of someone.


We can do many things with our hands but what scientists wanted to see was, if we can communicate compassion with a touch by using tactile behaviour. 


Let's look our skin as being the largest organ and see what we can learn about it! 


Our skin has specific neurons that process information about touch. The immune response is in the skin-scientists believe that a lot of touch can make you live longer. 


By doing experiments between people, researchers have discovered that people can guess emotion of compassion by being touch from the stranger through the hole in the wall that separates them by the accuracy of 60%. 


Also, they did a research between genders and some fascinating and not so encouraging findings came up. 

When a woman tries to communicate anger through the touch to the man, he doesn't get it but also when a man tries to communicate compassion to the woman, she doesn't know what is going on( this has been shown in the setting of the experiment). I guess we should be more patient with each other due to so confusing messages we are sending to each other.


Touch is not a foreign thing around the world. If we look statistics for non-human primates we can see they are spending around 20% of their time grooming each other.


How much of physical contact is shared between people depends on the culture they belong to. 

Western parts of the world are actually touch deprived- scientist said. 


It's well known and documented study on babies in the orphanage, if they are held for some time during the day, death rate almost vanishes.  


We can say that touch is one unbelievable social well-being mechanism.


Let's see benefits of the touch and what's going on in our brain and body when we have been touched.


-When a person touches another person it activates orbitofrontal cortex that provides a feeling of compassion and feeling of being rewarded.


-Touch build-ups cooperative relationships-reinforces reciprocity.


-It signals safety and trust.


-Gives soothing feeling, warm touch calms cardiovascular stress; activates the vagus nerve; leads to oxytocin release. 



If you want to influence people at work, touch can help you with that, too. 

If a leader who holds the meeting, wants specific person from his/her team to be more engaged and cooperative, all he/she needs to do is to communicate compassion through friendly pat at the back and say: "It's good to have you hear!" 

Touch is profoundly important!!!


Touch therapies as Craniosacral therapy, massage or any other form are the real things. They are not only good for our muscles rather for our whole body and mental health. They can release so many emotional injuries whose information are stored in the cells of our body.


"  Proper uses of touch truly have the potential to transform the practice of medicine"

Studies show that touching patients with Alzheimer's leads in a drop of depressive symptomatology.

Premature babies increase body weight by 47% if being held.

A teacher who pats a student on the back in a friendly way increases student ability to speak out in the class. 


Deep Touch Pressure and its calming effects 


Deep touch pressure is considered any form of tactile sensory input that is often provided by firm holding, cuddling, hugging, and squeezing. It acts as a calming instrument to increase activity in the parasympathetic branch, and on the other hand to lower activity in the sympathetic branch of the ANS ( Autonomic Nervous System ). This opposite movement of activity in the two divisions together increases endorphin levels (known as a happy hormone) and decreases heart rate and blood pressure (which go up when stress in present). Serotonin and dopamine are also released in the brain by deep touch pressure. 


Because of the effect on the production of happy neurotransmitters, deep touch pressure can be beneficial for people suffering from chronic stress and anxiety.

When those people experience deep touch pressure, they can relax and calm. With that change in state, they improve ability to cope with stress and anxiety, wich gives them more control over their lives.  


What is the message? 


Scientists are not proposing to be socially awkward or inappropriate and invade someone's personal space or just turn around to find the first person to touch or squeeze. 


They are putting light on the science of touch and showing us that we are wired to be touch-we need to connect with other people on the basic physical level. 


We all know when we were little, and we fell from the bike and being hurt, an immediate response is to put our hand over the painful part of the body. We don't need to learn how to respond to the pain or how to touch. It's innate respons.


After all of these years of using my touch and CranioSacral Therapy to help my child, I am more than sure in amazing abilities of our touch. 


Whenever you have a chance, give a hug to your partner or kids (even small but frequent touch during the day makes our connections stronger), also to your friends or maybe some proper pat on the back to you coworker can make a big difference. 





Hsin-Yung Chen et. al., 2011

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