Physical touch can be one of the most powerful tools that humans have when interacting with each other. Touch can convey emotions and meaning without saying a word. We already learned the power of gestures and body language in our last post “The Impact of Body Language on our Mind” so now let’s look deeper into how physical touch can impact us and how important it is to our development and social connections.
Touch is important from the moment we are born. A study looking at prematurely born children found that touch is critical for growth and development (Maharani, Suwondo, Hardjanti, Fatmasari, & Mashoedi, 2017). Human touch oxygenates our blood by stimulating blood circulation and results in increases in energy and improved sleep quality (Maharani, Suwondo, Hardjanti, Fatmasari, & Mashoedi, 2017). Even more, touch causes an increase in serotonin, a natural chemical that is linked to happiness (Maharani, Suwondo, Hardjanti, Fatmasari, & Mashoedi, 2017). With just two, 15 minute sessions of gentle massage on the premature children a day, the babies were more likely to have improvements in body weight, body temperature, and pulse stability (Maharani, Suwondo, Hardjanti, Fatmasari, & Mashoedi, 2017). As both children and adults, touch has a powerful impact on our development and there is a strong physiological response from human-to-human touch.
As we grow and understand social dynamics and what a touch can mean, positive physical touch can begin to impact us even more. It has even been shown that we can still receive positive feelings and become more emotionally sensitive when we see drawings of physical touch and aren’t actually experiencing it ourselves (Schirmer, Ng, & Ebstein, 2018). Subjects spent longer looking at the faces of those being touched to see their expression and reaction versus when there was no physical touch involved in the drawing (Schirmer, Ng, & Ebstein, 2018). While seeing touch between two people can still carry powerful meaning and emotional engagement, experiencing touch from a stranger or acquaintance can, as expected, be even more powerful.
Research in the 1970s showed a phenomenon called the Midas Effect (Schirmer, Ng, & Ebstein, 2018). Essentially, this Midas Effect showed that touch can enhance someone’s willingness to help and that the person initiating the touch is perceived as being genuine. When handing people a library card, librarians either touched the person's hand or didn’t and a resulting survey after the exchange revealed that people had much more positive views of the library if they had experienced a touch than if they hadn't (Schirmer, Ng, & Ebstein, 2018). In addition, touch also increased the likelihood people would tip waiting staff or to do a favor for a stranger (Schirmer, Ng, & Ebstein, 2018). Other studies have confirmed that the power of touch can increase people’s likelihood to help and that being closer to someone’s personal space is more indicative of a high need for help (Baron & Bel, 1976).
So how can we start to combine this information about touch and what impact touch has socially and physically? Let’s look at something as simple as a hug. Hugging another person can show that you support them and care for them but it can also result in having some significant physiological changes too (Kuchenbecker, 2019). Hugs have been shown to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and increase oxytocin, a chemical that aids in social bonding (Kuchenbecker, 2019). Not only that, but the social support of receiving a hug can even boost your immune system and protect against the risk of infection (Cohen, Janicki-Deverts, Turner, & Doyle, 2015). In subjects that were exposed to a common cold flu virus, those who received hugs believed that they had more support and as a result felt less severe illness symptoms and were more likely to not have any symptoms than those who did not receive hugs (Cohen, Janicki-Deverts, Turner, & Doyle, 2015). This perception of a hug as social support has also been found to reduce depression and anxiety as well as protect against stress-elicited increases in sickness (Cohen, Janicki-Deverts, Turner, & Doyle, 2015). Hugs from a trusted person have even been found to reduce pain (Cohen, Janicki-Deverts, Turner, & Doyle, 2015). Hugging results in what many therapists call Deep Pressure Touch which has long been a technique for reducing anxiety and achieving calmer behavior (Krauss, 1987). A hug not only brings touch, it also brings warmth with it and a 2008 study found that when participants were exposed to warmth, they were more likely to have positive emotions and perceive the person they were looking at as having a more generous and caring personality than if they were exposed to cold (Williams & Bargh, 2008).
Whether it’s a touch on the arm, a hug, or a comforting pat, touch can bring a sense of ease and lessened anxiety. Try connecting with others more deeply – especially those you are close with and who it is okay to touch – by reaching out and touching or hugging them during emotional moments or when they need support. To learn more about the power of touch, posture, and finding inner peace and happiness, check out some of our new free classes. We have classes like Healthy Eating on Mondays from 4:45 – 5:45, Calm and Connected Meditation on July 16th from 4:45 – 5:45, and our Dance Fitness classes on Wednesdays from 4:45 – 5:45. These can all get you feeling good and spread the positive energy. If you want more specialized courses check out our services at https://www.mooroutoflife.com/home and try out our 30/30 Wellness course, Wellness Consultation, Personal Training, and Meal Preparation courses so that you can get MOOR Out of Life!
Baron, R., & Bel, P. (1976). Physical distance and helping: Some unexpected benefits of crowding in on others. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 95-104.
Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., Turner, R., & Doyle, W. (2015). Does hugging provide stress-buffering social support? A study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness. Psychological Science, 135-147.
Krauss, K. (1987). The effects of deep pressure touch on anxiety. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 366-373.
Kuchenbecker, K. (2019). Softness, Warmth, and Responsiveness Improve robot Hugs. International Journal of Social Robotics, 49-64.
Maharani, Y., Suwondo, A., Hardjanti, T., Fatmasari, D., & Mashoedi, I. (2017). The Impact of Gentle Human Touch in Increasing Baby Weight, Body Temperature and Pulse Stability on Preterm Baby. Belitung Nursing Journal, 307-315.
Schirmer, A., Ng, T., & Ebstein, R. (2018). Vicarious Social Touch Biases Gazing at Faces and Facial Emotions. Emotion, 1097-1105.
Williams, L., & Bargh, J. (2008). Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth. Science, 606-607.