Let’s talk about one of the most important things for our brain and body, and yet it’s something you’re probably very much deficient in:
That’s right! Plain ol’ skin touching skin. Think about it for a second, when’s the last time your skin touched another person’s? (Made some sort of contact via a hug, reassuring embrace, a handshake, high five, ‘nucks, etc).
Touching yourself doesn’t count by the way ya pervs
I’ll wager to say it was probably a little while ago from the time you read this article. I’ll also wager to say you can only think of one/two instances, and one maybe two people who have touched your skin in the recent past. I’ll even bet those people were very close to you.
We have a huge problem in our society: We lack basic human touch. As you’ll soon see this can lead to a wealth of problems on both a psychological and physical cellular level. (For my International readers, this may pertain to you pending where you live and the customs of social interaction in your culture)
So let’s learn about touch today and learn what we’re depriving our bodies of.
Our agenda today:
- Social Psychology
- Touch and Development
- Biochemistry of touch.
I hope you’re ready for some:
Of the touching kind 😉
Psychology & Touch:
Let’s start by taking a look at our cousins, the primates, to get a glimpse as to how the animal world works on a social level in regards to touch.
Primates spend 10-20% of their waking day (Monkeys sleep roughly 10-12 hours a day) grooming each other.
That’s roughly 1.5-3ish hours touching and grooming another monkey a day.
Sounds kind of nice right? Maybe you should try to get your good friend to groom your butt for an hour
That’s how monkeys work, let’s look at sentient primates (aka humans):
In one study, scientists observed nonverbal communication between friends sitting at a cafe for 1 hour in a few different countries.
During the one-hour sitting 180 touchings were observed for Puerto Ricans, 110 for French, none for English and 2 for Americans. (Harper, 297).
Pretty nuts right? This is a rough estimate as to what is considered “normal” amounts of touching during conversation for these countries. This study was also done in the late 70’s, I can only imagine that due to the advent of the internet these nonverbal numbers may be way less.
When we are babies and children, we get touched a lot by our parents and by other grown ups (at least hopefully). This large amount of touching leads to healthy social development.
Without a large amount of touch in your childhood you get what is called “Developmental Delay”
Touch has emerged as an important modality for the facilitation of growth and development; positive effects of supplemental mechanosensory stimulation have been demonstrated in a wide range of organisms, from worm larvae to rat pups to human infants.
- The amount a rat mother licks her pup has a profound impact on it’s behavior and social development
- In microscopic Roundworms physical interactions with other worms promote growth and increase adult responsiveness to mechanosensory (touch sensors in the skin) stimuli.
(More on all that here)
Same thing applies to humans. Children that are institutionalized or ignored by their parents end up with stunted development in both their physical and mental realms.
Dr. Tiffany Field (from the Touch Research Institute) and others compared the growth rates of premature infants who were maintained in incubators without touch (standard protocol) to those who were subjected to light massage several times a day. Shortly after birth, premature babies are placed in aseptic environments, where they are fed intravenously and often go for extended periods without touch. Despite being fed exactly the same amount, the premature babies who were lightly massaged several times a day gained 21-47% more weight than the premature infants who were not touched.
As we age we start to experience less and less touch. This can be for a number of reasons, and it is rather normal, especially in more Western cultures.
This leads to the feeling of alienation and depression that many adults experience.
As we age we start to rely more on verbal communication. In the Social Psychology world they measure verbal communication with the term: Strokes (1 unit of verbal communication = 1 Stroke). On the surface this helps our feelings of alienation and depression, but it does not carry the same hormonal balance that basic touch gives us. It also sets us up in a vicious cycle of verbal affirmation to achieve a minimum number of Strokes.
We all have different “Stroke Counts” or the minimum required social interactions to appease ourselves on a social level. These are usually from the basic interactions that we have from the people in our daily lives.
Imagine for a second you work at a typical 9-5 job and you pass by Bob every day at about 10:15 on your way to the water cooler for your break. Every morning you say “Hi Bob” and he says “Hello [insert name here]” back. You’ve exchanged 1 stroke. You do this every day and you’re dependent on that 1 stroke from Bob to hit your total verbal stroke count each day.
Well one day Bob is sick, you pass by the water cooler at 10:15 and he’s gone. You’re now deficient 1 stroke. The next day Bob is back and when you pass by him, you’ll likely say “Hi Bob, where were you yesterday?” To which he’ll reply “Hello [name], I was sick” You’ve now exchanged 2 strokes with Bob because you needed to make up for the one you lost the previous day.
Can you see now how verbal communication can set you up in a vicious cycle of affirmation? That’s just one stroke too, imagine what would happen if you had a growing deficient number of strokes, stacking upon each other day after day.
Enter sadness, loneliness, & depression
The fix is quite simple too, let’s learn from the French, go out and fucking touch someone! (Pardon my French)
Let’s now look at why touch is so important and why it is better than verbal communication for your brain and body.
Biochemistry of Touch:
When you touch someone, or vice versa a lot of things begin to happen on a cellular level.
Basic touch stimulates the skin, which shoots up into the brain and releases the hormone: Oxytocin. Oxytocin is better known as “the love hormone” because it’s associated with feelings of attraction and bonding.
It’s released by the Pituitary gland (the master hormone gland) and then flows into the blood stream.
Fun fact: Chocolate can stimulate the release of Oxytocin
In addition to yielding feelings of love, empathy, and trust touch also helps reduce stress.
One study observed that “therapeutic touch” (described as a healing process facilitated by hands) decreased stress-associated cortisol levels, and the frequency of agitated behaviors (such as pacing and vocalizations) in individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.
This explains why a massage, even one that’s very quick, helps you unwind and de-stress.
Cortisol is usually released by the Adrenal glands of your body in it’s natural response to inflammation (yes, inflammation is normal, but only to a certain extent). Because we live in high stress environments and eat a bunch of pro-inflammatory processed foods, cortisol levels often go unchecked and keep rising. Just like your touch deficiency stroke count. Resulting in high blood cortisol levels and high stress mental levels.
In our world of touch deprivation, Cortisol is the stress hormone that often runs through our blood Mon-Fri which then get’s lowered at that Friday Happy Hour. Instead of alcohol, or maybe in addition to, get someone to touch you!
Instead of cigarettes and booze to escape your stress,
go out and release your stress with some touch, and maybe some feel good dancing!
The Final Touch Up:
There’s more to come on touch from my blog. We haven’t even brushed the surface of one of my favorite topics, touch and emotion. (I smell a near future article)
For now you have homework:
GO OUT AND TOUCH SOMEBODY
Make it sensible and respectable, try to keep it to a hug, high five, hand shake, etc.
Remember to respect people’s space too! Touching (especially a lot of it) is weird in our adult world culture, so maybe touch their brains with some of the psychology and science knowledge bombs you learned here. Then when they understand, touch their physical body.
Your goal: 10 touches a day from 10 different people from here on out.
It’ll help increase your feel good hormone Oxytocin, and help decrease some of that stress hormone Cortisol!
Extra credit: go out dancing too!
If Batman can do it after a hard stressful night of fighting crime, you can too!
Maybe even give my last article: Unlocking the Front Body via the Coracoid Process a read and touch a friend in an amazing fascially releasing way!
References Not Provided in Text via Hyperlink:
- Harper, R. G., Wiens, A. N. and Matarazzo J. D. Nonverbal communication: The State of the Art. Wiley Series on Personality Processes (1978). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.