From the moment we are born, we crave human touch. We could not exist without this most basic human need everyone desires. Touch can be conveyed in many different ways and at many different levels. From a simple handshake, to a gentle caress to an intimate embrace, there are many different ways that people perceive and experience touch
Research shows that a hug from a loved one can lower your blood pressure and increase your sense of well-being. A handshake with a colleague can create a connection and even an aggressive or painful touch can provide us with information about our environment to cause discomfort, rather than reassurance. Touch is a vital way in which we understand our world around us. It can affect us physiologically, emotionally, psychologically and intellectually. Touch is the most primitive of all sensations and the only one of the five senses that involves the whole body.
To Touch Or Not To Touch
Dr. Harry Harlow made waves with his research on touch deprivation in young monkeys. Harlow demonstrated that infant macaque monkeys formed attachment to a mother doll that was covered in soft cloth, but not to one that was made of wire mesh. The monkeys chose the soft over the hard “mother” even when the latter was the one that offered them food. Harlow’s theory was that the effect was due to the importance of physical contact between mother and child in generating feelings of security. When they are secure, an animal is more likely to explore his environment and to engage with unfamiliar surroundings. Without touch and security, the opposite happens: an infant, whether monkey or human, becomes more fearful and withdrawn.
Other studies done have shown the positive effects of massage on premature infants. Preemies who received infant massage 3 times a day for 10 days gained 47% more weight, were more alert and responsive than those not massaged. In 1995, the story of Brielle and Kyrie Jackson made history when the tiny premature twins were immediately separated after birth. Brielle’s health was failing and she was in danger of dying and it wasn’t until they were placed together in one incubator and Kyrie threw her arm over her sister, that Brielle’s heart rate and breathing normalized and the two went on to thrive and do well.
Using The Positive Effects Of Touch In Our Everyday Lives
When we touch, we build relationships. A touch can reduce our anxieties, it can provide reassurance, it can alleviate depression and it can ease pain. It tells us we are not alone in our world. So how can we use touch in our everyday lives to create positive relationships at home, at work and in our communities?
- Frequent hugs, pats on the back, squeezes on the arm and hair tousles can make your child feel special and important.
- A firm handshake at work can convey authority, strength and competence.
- Touch can promote trust and cooperation. People are more likely to help those when touched. By touching someone on the arm when speaking to them, it creates a connection and many, even strangers, are more likely to offer help and compliance when asked for favors.
- Touch can help improve performance. By touching someone reassuringly on the arm, they are more likely to be motivated to perform their best.
- Touch provides reassurance and anxiety reduction in stressful situations. When your children are scared or when a friend is worried, touching them on the arm, giving a friendly hug or holding their hand can alleviate much of their worry.
While a pat on the back, a touch on the arm or a kiss good night may seem like small, everyday gestures that many of us take for granted, they are often far more important than we realize. The documented emotional, psychological, health and intellectual benefits that come from touch indicate that touch is fundamental to human communication and bonding. In fact, touch is the very heart of our human interactions.
In the words of Michelangelo, “To touch can be to give life.”
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