The Power of Touch
Friday, August 12, 2016
Touch is one of the most basic expressions of social connectedness. Hundreds of studies over the past 40 years have helped us better understand the powerful effects of physical touch.
In one study in which tactile/kinesthetic stimulation was given to preterm babies, researchers found that touch was very powerful. The touching or stimulation consisted of body stroking and passive movements of the limbs for three 15-minute periods per day for ten days. The touched-and-moved babies averaged a 47% greater weight gain per day. They were also more active and alert during sleep/wake behavior observations. Finally, those babies who had human touch and movement had a hospital stay six days shorter than those who weren't touched in the same manner, which yielded a cost savings of approximately $3,000 per baby!
Interestingly enough, observations made by researchers decades ago, as they watched groups of monkeys, provided additional information on the power of touch. University of Wisconsin researchers Harry and Margaret Harlow compared monkeys who were raised together in cages with monkeys whose only social contact came through seeing, hearing and smelling other monkeys. The Harlows found that the monkeys who did not have touch or actual body contact with other monkeys grew up with a variety of emotional abnormalities. As these monkeys grew older, early self-aggression turned into aggression against other monkeys. Perhaps most striking was the example of how mothers behaved with their young. Mothers who grew up without touch showed less warmth and affection toward their offspring; some were actually physically abusive to their babies.
Many years ago a now famous research study was done at an orphanage. The researchers wondered why at that particular orphanage the children were living, while at the other ones children seemed more likely to die. They found that the assistant at the orphanage where the children weren't dying, simply hugged and held the children.
Touch is very important to our health, and it doesn't have to be dramatic or uncomfortable to make a difference. An unusual study was conducted in a university library. As they left the library, students were stopped and asked how satisfied they were with the service they had received. What the students didn't know was that the study wasn't about the library—it was about touch. The library clerk had received specific instructions that half the people checking out were to have their hands touched as they got their cards back. They were touched just lightly, almost imperceptibly. But, however casual and meaningless this contact may have seemed, the researchers found that the students who had been touched had much higher opinions of the library service than those who were not touched.
Our connection through touch is indeed healing to mind, body and soul, It can take many forms and it can have profound effects on our whole being. Try these simple ways to add more touch to your life:
- Connect to your children with a hug, kiss, or a gentle squeeze of the arm
- Shake hands and smile when greeting someone
- Hold a friend's hand while you take time to talk with them
- Get a massage or a manicure
- Volunteer at an animal shelter or petting zoo, or pet or hold a dog, cat or bird