Have you ever thought about the importance of touch? Author Paula Cocozza states, “The pleasantness [of touch] encourages us to keep touching, nourishes babies and binds adults, and threads wellbeing into the fabric of our being.”
We don’t think twice to hug our children when they’re crying, and it’s therapeutic to pet our dogs when we come home after a long day. Whether you greet a family member or an old friend that you haven’t seen in awhile, it’s almost instinctual to hug them.
Positive or friendly touching, like hugging, pats on the back, or a touch on the shoulder, is innate to all humans. In fact, scientific research demonstrates how essential friendly touching is to brain development.
Are we losing touch?
Despite the known benefits, friendly touching appears to be out of vogue. Particularly in Western countries, social media, television, video games, video chatting, online forums, and mobile devices have made it easier for individuals to communicate remotely, resulting in less physical contact.
As society also increasingly becomes centered around boundary setting, many professionals, especially within school systems, healthcare and social work settings, have implemented strict rules and regulations regarding touching.
Research on the emotional benefits of touch
Although it’s important to create boundaries in all settings, whether personal or professional, it’s also important to keep in mind the positive effects that friendly touching has on the human brain. Researchers have deemed sensory stimulation, or friendly touching, as not only important for cognitive development, but also as beneficial to the emotional and physical wellbeing of elderly individuals. Researchers also have linked physical contact to the part of the brain that’s connected to our emotions, and they found that physical contact lowers cortisol levels, the stress hormone, and increases serotonin levels, our body’s natural antidepressant.
For this reason, it’s believed that a lack of positive physical touch can lead to higher stress levels, aggressiveness, anxiety, unsatisfying relationships and feelings of loneliness, which in turn can lead to depression. However, when positive touch increases, the likelihood of all of these things decreases. These findings are important to consider, especially when dealing with populations that are more prone to social isolation, such as older adults.
Overall, humans need more than just food, water and shelter to survive and thrive. We need to connect and interact with others, we need to feel wanted and valued, we need to feel as if we have a purpose, and we need to experience friendly touching. With permission, we encourage you to add more friendly touching to your daily routine. You’ll never know how far a hug can go.
- Ardiel, Evan L. & Rankin, Catherine H. The Importance of Touch in Development. 2010. Pediatric Child Health, 2010. 15(3): 153 – 156. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2865952/
- Williams, Ray. 8 Reasons Why We Need Human Touch More Than Ever. 2015. https://www.iahe.com/docs/articles/8-reasons-why-we-need-human-touch-more-than-ever.pdf.
- Cocozza, Paula. No hugging: are we living through a crisis of touch. 2018. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/07/crisis-touch-hugging-mental-health-strokes-cuddles