Touch is important to humans of all ages. Its benefits include reduction of physical and mental suffering, as well as, improved somatic performance. Touch can heal or harm; nurture or abuse. It is a form of communication and allows us to form bonds. By the time we are teenagers, we receive a great deal less physical contention than when we were children.
During childhood, we learn social norms and rules. We try to teach our children to have appropriate physical boundaries and to be cautious of physical contact received by others. We reduce our physical affections to try to help develop children’s self-confidence, independence, and self-identity. While all of these teachings have their purpose, we neglect the fact that touch is actually a vital sense to all stages of life.
When we are adults, we limit our physical contact with others. For loved ones and family members, many people still partake in hugging. In a romantic relationship, there is typically physical contact via kissing, intercourse, and cuddling. But we rarely have physical contact with others. The most common contact we have with the public is a handshake, and even some avoid that.
Seniors receive the least amount of physical contact. Many times, seniors live alone. Most families don’t live with their elderly members and help care for them. They are often sent to homes. Also, with society’s emphasis on youthful appearance, there is a preconception that age is ugly and unattractive.
Many people are not comfortable with touch. We are taught physical boundaries from early on. That all strangers are dangerous (though the benefits outweigh the risk on that). Some people suffer from disorders such as OCD or Autism in which they don’t like to be touched. Many people have been physically abused, sexually abused, assaulted, raped, etc. When we are physically harmed by another person, we tend to develop a prejudice that we generalize to that type of person. Sadly, these people need touch just as much, if not more, than the average person. In order to resolve a fear, we must face the fear. For people who have been violated via touch, touch can be a tool to help them recover if done in a safe, respectful, and constructive way.
Positive Effects of Touch
Physical contact is essential for the growth and development of babies. Babies who are touched gain weight faster. They develop mental and motor skills more rapidly. Touch can help sooth a baby or excite them. Touch is also important to establish a bond between the baby and its care-givers and is the first form of communication with people.
Positive touch teaches children to read social and emotional cues. It can lower levels of aggression and violence among children. Touch actually stimulates physical growth, as well as, the growth of the brain by increasing growth hormones.
Researchers at the University of Miami Touch Research Institute found that touch with moderate pressure stimulates a cranial nerve that slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. This produces a state that is relaxed but more attentive. Touch also reduces stress hormones and may enhance immune function.
In the elderly, touch helps promote sleep, enhances feelings of well-being, decreases blood pressure, and decreases the intensity of chronic pain. Touch is also shown to increase longevity.
- Our skin, which we are able to recognize the sense of touch, is the body’s largest organ.
- Touch is the first sense that babies develop in utero (at 8 weeks).
- There are volunteers in the NICU whose sole purpose is to provide babies with physical contact.
- Children are comforted by stuffed animals.
- It is comforting to curl up with a blanket or comforter.
- Many people enjoy massages.
- People bring animals to visit the elderly in hospitals and homes.
Research on Touch
University of Miami Touch Research Institute
Children Need Touching and Attention, Harvard Researchers Say
The Primacy of Human Touch
The Effect of Human Contact on Newborn Babies
Harlow’s Monkeys (1958)