In recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.
The benefits of touch start from the moment we’re born. A review of research, conducted by Tiffany Field, a leader in the field of touch, found that preterm newborns who received just three 15-minute sessions of touch therapy each day for 5-10 days gained 47 percent more weight than premature infants who’d received standard medical treatment.
As Kelly Bartlett points out, being regularly physically affectionate with kids of all ages helps maintain the emotional connection they share with their parents. When that bond remains strong, challenging behavioral situations decrease and discipline becomes less intense overall.
Games involving person-to-person contact (e.g. horsey rides, piggy back rides, wrestling, tag etc.) promote the release of positive brain chemicals and bring families closer together in a fun, physical way.
As children grow and become more independent and social, opportunities for cuddling naturally diminish, and it becomes important for parents to take extra effort to find ways to physically connect with them. Reading to a child or even watching a movie on the couch is a wonderful way to get close, as it invites leaning into, lying on, snuggling, touching, and arm-wrapping.
And educators, take note: A study by French psychologist Nicolas Gueguen has found that when teachers pat students in a friendly way, those students are three times as likely to speak up in class.
Touch is very important for adults too. According to scientists, touch reduces both physiological and perceived stress; touch causes one’s stress hormones, such as cortisol, to decrease while causing other hormones, like oxytocin, to increase which promote social bonding and wellness.
According to Dacher Keltner, touch is our primary language of compassion, and a primary means for spreading compassion. In fact, in his research he has found that people can not only identify love, gratitude, and compassion from touches but can differentiate between those kinds of touch, something people haven’t done as well in studies of facial and vocal communication.
Interestingly enough, two gender differences have been identified in Dacher Keltner’s research:
- when a woman tried to communicate anger to a man via touch, he got zero right—he had no idea what she was doing!
- when a man tried to communicate compassion to a woman via touch, she didn’t know what was going on!
It might seem surprising, but touch may mean more to men than they let on: A 2011 study by the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction polled more than 1,000 men and their female partners in five countries about the power of touch and found that for men between the ages of 40 and 70, regular cuddling was more important than sex. The more men hugged and kissed, the happier they considered their relationships.
There are times—during intense grief or fear, but also in ecstatic moments of joy or love—when only the language of touch can fully express what we feel. This video is an invitation for people to relearn the power of touch. There’s much to be gained from embracing our tactile sense—in particular, more positive interactions and a deeper sense of connection with others.
Did you touch someone today?