The Power of Touch
Over nine months of waiting for that moment when I would finally hold my child for the first time. It is one thing to carry a child through pregnancy, but something completely different to touch his face, feel his tiny fingers wrap around your own, and to kiss his soft cheeks.
Touch is the first sense to develop in utero and is the most strongly developed by birth. Through the science of touch, we learn about the presence of neurons in our skin which relay information about our environment through receptors specialized for touch. Our sense of touch enables us to learn about ourselves and to connect to others which ultimately allows us to understand more about our world, thus increasing our chance of survival. (Denworth, 2015)
For newborns, “skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth regulates the child’s breathing and body temperature. The benefits are even greater for preterm and vulnerable hospitalized infants.” (Erdman, 2015). In fact, studies conducted by Tiffany Field, a leader in the science of touch, determined that preterm infants who received “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.” (Keltner, 2010)
As infants grow, touch continues to be a necessary part of social emotional development. Annett Schirmer, a psychologist at the National University of Singapore, confirmed in her studies that the benefits of touch extend beyond infancy and throughout childhood, “A gentle, affectionate touch reaches the brain through a class of nerve fibers in the skin called c-tactile afferents. Some scientists believe this particular group of nerves has evolved in social species, from mice to men, and may be fundamental in developing the social brain. These nerve fibers…are found mostly on the back of the body and appear to be absent on the palms. When activated by gentle touch, the nerves trigger a cascade of hormonal effects in the brain.” (Gholipour, 2016)
Even for adults, it is now believed that proper uses of touch may transform medical practice. Research from UC Berkeley demonstrates a correlation between increased survival rates of patients with complex diseases and those who received a pat on the back and eye contact from a doctor. Other work by Tiffany Field demonstrates that “touching patients with Alzheimer’s disease can have huge effects on getting them to relax, make emotional connections with others, and reduce their symptoms of depression.” (Keltner, 2010).
In the field of education, French psychologist Nicolas Gueguen discovered a correlation between teachers’ patting children in a friendly way and children’s willingness to speak up and participate in classroom discussions. Additionally, when librarians pat the hand of a child checking out a book, that child believes he has had a more positive experience and is more likely to return. (Keltner, 2010)
Touch, as a scientific field, is relatively new. Yet these studies suggest that there is undeniable power in touch at so many different levels. “To deny that is to deprive ourselves of some of life’s greatest joys and deepest comforts” (Keltner, 2010).
Erdman, L. (2015, Apr 07). “The Power of Touch Between Mom and Baby.” Retrieved on June 10, 2017 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lynn-erdman/the-power-of-touch-betwee_b_6619258.html
Gholipour, B. (2016, Jul 29). “A Parent’s Touch Actually Transforms a Baby’s Brain.” Retrieved on May 25, 2017 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/parents-touch-child-brain_us_579ae4c0e4b08a8e8b5d83cd
Keltner, D. (2010, September 29). “Hands On Research: The Science of Touch.” Retrieved on June 10, 2017 from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hands_on_research
Konnikova, M. (Mar 4, 2015). “The Power of Touch.” Newyorker. Retrieved on May 25, 2017 from http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/power-touch