Silence of TouchBlog

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Bodywork and Human Touch


Touch and Human Relationships

| 10 December 2022

Here is an interesting research paper on 'Touch'. I added some photo's and shortened the text, to make it more enjoyable, however the full article is informative.Link to full Article

Touch and Human Relationships

Serious research on the importance of touch began only about 40 years ago. But, since that time, scientists have shown that the amount of body contact in our lives plays a vital role in our mental and physical development as infants and in our happiness and vigor as adults. Touch influences our ability to deal with stress and pain, to form close relationships with other people, and even to fight off disease. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even apes in trees do it…touches, that is. Especially the apes in trees. In fact, in addition to live births, giving milk and having hair on their bodies, the need for touch is the one thing that all mammals--humans included--seem to share. Mammalian systems are designed so that the infant care-giving process involves an enormous amount of contact. Among our closest relatives, the primates, contact between mother and baby is constant. For all mammals, touch is clearly important developmentally.

Touch loses some of its importance, as mammals grow older. But it still quite obviously remains important, and not only to humans. Consider the other mammals that we humans come in contact with most often. Dog owners know that Fido revels in having his neck or chin scratched. How many cat owners have never had an arching, purring feline rub against their legs? And dairy farmers will tell you that all cows love to be milked. Even the largest of all mammals seem to enjoy touch. Despite every good reason to fear humans, whales such as the humpback (up to 62 feet long and up to 53 tons) have been known to pop their prodigious heads out of the sea and allow themselves to be petted and scratched, sometimes for hours.


Various studies have shown that when someone else gently holds a person's wrist, heartbeat slows and blood pressure declines. Children and adolescents, hospitalized for psychiatric problems, show remarkable reductions in anxiety levels and positive changes in attitude when they receive a brief daily back rub. The arteries of rabbits fed a high-cholesterol diet and petted regularly had 60% fewer blockages than did the arteries of un-petted but similarly fed rabbits. Rats, handled for 15 minutes a day during the first three weeks of their lives, showed dramatically less brain cell deterioration and memory loss as they grew old, compared with non-handled rats. Despite all these reasons to really reach out and touch someone, Americans find it difficult, and we don't do it often. Aside from a brisk handshake or an occasional embrace at the airport gate, touching just isn't a big part of our culture.

Touch-starved Culture

One study in the 1960s showed a stark contrast between cultures by noting the number of touches exchanged by pairs of people sitting in coffee shops around the world: In San Juan, Puerto Rico, people touched 180 times an hour; in Paris, France, 110 times an hour; in Gainesville, Florida, 2 times per hour; and in London, England, they never touched. A society's touch habits reflect the way people relate on other levels. Americans tend to be a touch cooler than, say, the cheek-kissing Italians or Spaniards. Our physical distancing partially reflects our psychological need for autonomy and independence.

Part of the blame for our society's taboo on touch, lies with the chin-scratching father of modern-day psychology, Sigmund Freud. Freud encouraged austerity in dealing with children. And parents, in an effort to be good parents, bought into that behavior. People, who aren't cuddled a lot as kids, tend to develop into non-touching adults. The cycle then repeats itself, generation after generation. But, Americans, particularly as they become more aware of the potential benefits of touch, are starting to do something about it. This change is especially tangible in the healing arts.

Born To Be Touched

The need for touch, as important as it is throughout our lives, is never more crucial than immediately following and shortly after exit from the womb. Because vision and hearing take time to fully develop, touch becomes possibly the most critical of all the senses to the newborn. There's no question that babies deprived of motherly affection don't fare too well--emotionally or physically. Years of experience with infants raised in public institutions have shown this to be true. Earlier in the century, infants, forced to live in such sterile environments, often wasted away and died. Back then, no one could provide any good explanations. Today, scientists offer fresh insight. Their studies on both human and animal babies have shown that the brain--by releasing or withholding certain chemicals--regulates the physical and emotional development of the infant. And the brain's actions, in turn, are controlled by touch. In studies with premature infants, half of the tiny babies, selected at random, were gently stroked for 45 minutes a day. The other half was not. Although all were fed the same amount of calories, after ten days, the touched babies weighed-in 47% heavier than the unstimulated group. Not only were those babies bigger, they were happier as well. The stroked kids were more active, more alert and more responsive to social stimulation.

In the adolescent years, the parents and child begin to withdraw from one another; the teenager, out of a sense of self-consciousness with her new feelings and physical changes, and the parents, out of book-learned attitudes and discomfort with their developing offspring. Hugging, kissing, and physical closeness may diminish or stop completely then, leaving the young adult starved for affection. This hunger is often satiated through indiscriminate sex with peers; a way of continuing touching where parents left off. The need for touching does not exclude the elderly. While the skin of an older person may be aesthetically less appealing because of wrinkles, spotting, and dryness, the human being inside the skin craves touching more than ever.

In the rat world, the equivalent of maternal stroking, hugging and tickling is licking. But because it's difficult to teach a mother rat to lick or not lick on command, it was found that a wet paintbrush makes a fairly good tongue substitute. As the animals were made to believe that their mothers' affections were being turned on and off, it soon became clear that something else was being turned on and off at the same time: the brain's release of beta-endorphins, a chemical that appears to affect many aspects of growth and development.

When an infant rat senses that its mother is absent, it reacts the way you might if you were stuck at sea in a small lifeboat. First it cries, and then it immediately quiets down. In a lifeboat, you'd probably do everything to conserve your food and water. And the helpless baby whose mom has disappeared shifts all its energy to support its life functions--neglecting those cellular functions that can make it grow up big and strong. The same kinds of physical reactions are going on in human infants deprived of touch. There was a period of about 30 years where the advice was to keep the baby away from the mother for the first week. But in the last few years, there has been a complete turn-around in pediatric practice. Now major efforts are being made to keep babies with their mothers right from the beginning. There are health benefits from snuggling and stroking pet animals, even inanimate objects--teddy bears, for instance. Look at primitive cultures--they're all very touch-oriented. If you want to go back further and look at the higher primates (the closest biological relatives to humans), in every single species, contact plays a very powerful role.

In modern times, health care has strayed far from those primal roots. For while it might seem logical to incorporate touch as part of the healing process, medical historians generally agree that one of the first pieces of technology that set into motion the depersonalizing process in medicine appeared in 1819, with a piece of hardware called the stethoscope. This was the introduction of the technique of auscultation, the science of making diagnoses by listening to internal sounds of the human body. It gave the doctor a whole new way of collecting information about the patient's heart, lungs, and abdomen. It eliminated the old practice of pressing one's ear to the patient's chest. The stethoscope replaced this gesture with something more informative, but less intimate. It eliminated the soothing effect of human touch. More patients are turning to the hands-on skills of chiropractors, massage therapists, and other body workers, for a multitude of problems.

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