The Importance of Touching and Being Touched

May 11, 2020
Touching and being touched is more than just a biological necessity. One can also perceive the emotions of others and confer support, comfort, and affection through touching.

The importance of touching and being touched by those you love is more than just biological. It’s part of human language, nurturing emotional needs, validating affection, and quenching fears. In addition, it gives you a jolt of oxytocin. Not having it will make your skin yearn for it. Thus, your stress levels may increase, as well as your physical discomfort.

The skin is the largest organ of the body and touch is the first sense you acquire, along with the sense of smell. Studies reveal that practices such as skin-to-skin contact with babies (especially premature babies) promote somatosensory scaffolding of their brains. Thus, it optimizes their cognitive, perceptual, social, and physical development.

Humans need contact, just like animals, and not only during the earliest stages. For example, physical affection such as hugging the elderly improve their communication processes, as per the observations in many nursing homes. In addition, they feel less tired and even their joint pain reduces.

The human brain needs contact (always from meaningful people) to find the emotional balance with which to promote peace of mind. Science is discovering many more processes that pertain to touch and that the world didn’t know until recently. Continue reading to discover more data.

A baby sleeping.

The importance of touching – it’s more than a biological need

People need to touch and be touched to communicate affection, help, receive, or give comfort… Science has known all this for a long time and has revealed it empirically throughout the years. But there’s an even more interesting aspect.

While conducting a study, Matthew Hertenstein, a psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana, discovered that humans are even capable of perceiving emotions through touch. The experiment was conducted in 2009 and involved strangers touching a group of 248 blindfolded people for five seconds.

As striking as it may seem, 75% of these men and women were able to identify the concern, fear, sadness, anger, sympathy, or even happiness of the person doing the touching.

This study became so important that it was repeated at the University of Miami a few years later. Dr. Tiffany Field, director of the university’s Touch Research Institute, reached the following conclusions.

Humans can send, receive, and interpret emotional signals through touch

A physiotherapist doesn’t only use their hands as a working tool, as they can also perceive worries, tensions, adverse emotions, and intensifying contractures through them. Thus, these expert hands not only relieve pain and improve mobility but also have the wonderful ability to transmit a sense of well-being.

Two people hugging.

The authors of the aforementioned study emphasize the need to delve into a broader population sample. But we can establish the following hypothesis with this first step:

  • The importance of touching goes beyond affection. Evolutionarily speaking, humans also acquired the ability to read the emotional state of others through their sense of touch. Something like this allows humans, above all, to be able to confer relief through a hug or a pat in the back to someone in distress.

Touching and the primary somatosensory cortex

Until recently, neurologists believed that the somatosensory cortex is what allows humans to decode such basic qualities as knowing whether a surface is smooth or rough or whether its temperature is hot or cold. However, as science advances and there’s more knowledge about how the sense of touch directly relates to emotions, researchers continue to discover more facts about it.

This area of the human brain also plays a role in social and emotional components. For example, it helps perceive tension or concern in your children and seek their closeness to embrace them. You offer comfort, security, and affection through such contact.

Michael Spezio, a psychologist at Scripps College and author of this study, points out that playing isn’t just a physical experience but also an emotional one as well as a type of language. It’s a mechanism where you can also understand one another and respond without the need for words.

Two people about to touch.

The importance of touching, a powerful language within your reach

People often say that they seldom receive as many sensory experiences through touch as when they were children. Likewise, cultural factors and education either facilitate or curb your ability to confer this type of communication through physical contact in adulthood.

It’s even common for team players to make use of touch (a touch, a slap, or a hug) to support each other at any given moment. There are moments where everyone needs something more intense than a word. Thus, recovering and enhancing this type of language is essential.

The importance of touching goes beyond a biological need. It’s a social foundation that allows you to improve your emotional universe.

  • Alspach, G. (2004). Hugs and healthy hearts. Critical Care Nurse, 24(3), 8-9.
  • Ebner, N. C., Maura, G. M., MacDonald, K., Westberg, L., & Fischer, H. (2013). Oxytocin and socioemotional aging: Current knowledge and future trends. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, ARTID 487.
  • Hertenstein MJ (2006) Touch communicates distinct emotions.  Emotion, https://doi.org/10.1037/1528-3542.6.3.528