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Physical Touch Is More Important Than You Might Think

By Orgesta Tolaj


31 January 2024

Physical Touch

©️ Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash

In today’s fast-paced world, we often find ourselves caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life, making genuine human connections less frequent. In this digital age, where virtual connections have become the norm, have we underestimated the power of physical touch? We may not fully realize it, but human touch plays a crucial role in our overall well-being.

Brief History Behind the Science of Touch

The study of touch gained prominence in the mid-1990s. That is when two scientists investigated sensory deprivation in children at understaffed orphanages in Romania. Their research revealed that touch-deprived children exhibited significantly lower cortisol levels. They also showed stunted growth development compared to their peers in the same age group. This highlighted the crucial role of touch in physiological and developmental well-being.

The Importance of Physical Touch in Relationships

Tiffany Field, head of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, observed people at Florida airports earlier this year. She found that despite her four-decade study of touch, she discovered a surprising lack of physical interaction among individuals. Instead of connecting through touch, everyone was engrossed in their phones.

Throughout our entire life span, from the prenatal stage to old age, touch plays a crucial role in our development. This includes our overall physical and mental well-being. Recent studies emphasize the significance of physical contact in early development, communication, interpersonal relationships, and even in bolstering our immune system against diseases.

© Rishabh Dharmani / Unsplash

Despite the growing awareness of the therapeutic benefits of touch, Field contends that no-touch policies in schools and the isolating effects of digital devices like cell phones and computers have led to a reduction in physical contact among Americans. In a conversation, Field discusses the latest research findings on the importance of touch. She highlights the consequences when societal trends result in decreased human contact.

What Did the Study Find?

The research conducted by Tiffany Field and her team revealed that massage therapy has the remarkable effect of increasing natural killer cells. These cells play a vital role as the frontline defenders of the immune system. These cells are responsible for targeting and eliminating viral and bacterial cells. The initial findings were observed in men with HIV. However, subsequent studies on adolescents with HIV and individuals with breast cancer also demonstrated a significant increase in natural killer cells. The mechanism behind this phenomenon is attributed to the reduction of cortisol levels, the body’s stress hormone. By lowering cortisol, which typically suppresses natural killer cells, massage therapy may contribute to preserving these crucial immune system components.

So, Why Do We Need Physical Touch?

Extreme cases, such as orphans in Romania, illustrate the severe consequences of touch deprivation, leading to growth and developmental delays. These children exhibit characteristics resembling autism and suffer from stunted growth, evident in their significantly below-average height and weight. Visiting an orphanage in Romania, the researcher observed the dire conditions where a large number of children shared limited adult attention. This resulted in insufficient touch experiences. They did receive adequate nutrition. However, there were discernible disparities, with children on higher floors appearing healthier, possibly attributed to exposure to sunlight as the sole distinguishable factor.

After reading more about it, do you now believe that physical touch is important?

You might also want to read: Stuck in the Middle? Here Are Some Signs That They Like You!

Orgesta Tolaj

Your favorite introvert who is buzzing around the Hive like a busy bee!