The Psychology of Touch


Published on

To view our other Research Maps go to:

  • Be the first to comment

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

The Psychology of Touch

  1. 2. <ul><li>The PsychFutures Research Maps are a series of digests on the most popular Psychology related topics, whereby linking to podcasts, videos, journal publications, websites and blogs; ideal if you’re looking for inspiration to kick-start your dissertations and research projects. </li></ul><ul><li>The topics are varied, including Love, Sport and Music. To view the full list and download the other Research Maps click here or go to: /page/research </li></ul>Providing One-Stop Summaries and Directions For Your Research
  2. 3. Introduction <ul><li>Human beings could simply not exist without their sense of touch. From the moment of birth to the final moments before death, touch is a basic human need for which everyone hungers. It is a sense that shapes and moulds your personality and impacts on how you present yourself in the world. A variety of emotions and reactions are conveyed through physical touch, as varying as there are types of touch, from friendly handshakes, to an intimate embrace, to an aggressive punch. Based on the belief that energy flows between human beings, physical contact between people fulfils our fundamental desire to be connected to others. </li></ul>
  3. 4. Introduction <ul><li>Christopher C.Nocera and John A. Bargh , say how “touch is both the first sense to develop and a critical means of information acquisition and environmental manipulation”. </li></ul><ul><li>So, why are there variations in touch for different people? For example, it is customary in the UK for people to shake hands when they greet each other whereas in Latin cultures they may replace this with a kiss or two. Children are extremely tactile with each other, but this becomes less acceptable as they grow up. Would you expect to see adult friends holding hands or plaiting each other’s hair? </li></ul>
  4. 5. Research <ul><li>As previously stated, there are many different types of touch: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Loving and/or intimate – hand-holding, kisses, hugs, arm around another person’s shoulders. These types of touch are all associated with desire, fondness, tenderness, belonging and passion. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Needy – young children or pets often use this type of touch – hugging onto a parent’s leg or tugging of clothing, often used to communicate a want or need. Similarly, a dog may paw or lick your hand in a bid for attention. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Healing – this form of touch may be used by practitioners on their clients to improve their health, relieve stress and promote recovery from injury. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Inquisitive – developing babies explore the world primarily through touch, as the blind learn to ‘see’ using this sense. Physicians will also often use touch to learn where you are feeling pain or where there is an abnormality. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Abusive and/or aggressive – harmful forms of touch. For instancs: hitting, slapping and other forms of forceful contact. </li></ul></ul>
  5. 6. Research <ul><li>All forms of touch have actual physiological effects on our biochemical and bio-energetic systems. The activity of brain waves is increased, resulting in increased alertness. The degree of insulin needed in diabetics is reduced, the levels of hormones increase and sleep patterns are enhanced. Many neuronal messages are transmitted to our brain through touch, which stimulates the production of hormones (emotional/chemical energy), which results in pleasurable feelings, both physical and emotional. </li></ul>
  6. 7. Research <ul><li>During a set of experiments led by Matthew Hertenstein , a psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana, participants attempted to communicate certain emotions by touching a blindfolded stranger. With about 70% accuracy, participants were able to communicate eight different emotions, from gratitude to disgust to love. </li></ul><ul><li>Dr Hertenstein said “We used to think that touch only served to intensify communicated emotions…[now to seems to be] a much more differentiated signalling system than we had imagined”. </li></ul>
  7. 8. Research <ul><li>Scientists at Berkeley investigated the link between supportive touch and performance related to professional basketball. Michael Kraus led a team that documented every hug and high five during the games played by the National Basketball Association. Kraus and co-authors, Cassy Huang and Dr. Keltner found that good teams tended to have more touch interaction than bad ones, with few exceptions. </li></ul><ul><li>To account for the possibility that the better teams simply touch more due to the fact they were actually winning, researchers based performance not on points or victories but on how efficiently the players and teams managed the ball. </li></ul><ul><li>However, the findings failed to show that increased contact directly results in better performance; Dr Kraus commented “We still have to test this in a controlled lab environment”. </li></ul>
  8. 9. Research <ul><li>If it can indeed be proven that touch enhances performance this could be because it reduces stress. A warm touch releases oxytocin , a hormone that helps create the sensation of trust, and reduces level of the stress hormone cortisol . </li></ul><ul><li>This leads to the prefrontal areas of the brain which regulate emotion, to relax and allow freedom to perform another of their primary purposes; problem solving. In essence, the body interprets a supportive touch from a colleague to mean “I’ll share the load.” </li></ul>
  9. 10. Research <ul><li>Basically, humans thrive on touch. So why do people often fear touch? Especially in ‘professional’ relationships, you would never expect to be embraced by your GP in the street, although you may have seen them on a sporadic basis for most of your life. People will often criticise others who they consider to be too ‘touchy-feely’, but why is this, if touch is a sensation that is not only necessary, but is beneficial to us? </li></ul><ul><li>Being deprived of touch can have extremely detrimental effects on human beings. As discussed by Professor Michael Rutter , Romanian orphans who had been neglected by their caretakers were found holding and rocking themselves in an attempt to fulfil their own basic need for touch and nurturing. </li></ul>
  10. 11. Research <ul><li>On the journey from birth to adulthood we develop touch barriers which can be harmful to us and difficult to overcome. The amount that you were touched, tickled and played with as a child can have a significant impact on how you feel about being touched, being affectionate and having sexual intercourse as an adult. For example, some people are afraid to show or receive affection from a partner in public, perhaps suggesting that touching and intimacy was not encouraged during their childhood. </li></ul><ul><li>Often we do not necessary link touch-experiences from childhood to later experiences, but everything from the first touch we experienced, to bonding with our parents, feeding, holding etc effects how we feel and subsequently react when in similar situations in adult life. </li></ul>
  11. 12. Research <ul><li>Consider how feelings of guilt can be so easily associated with touch from early childhood. Children who touch their genitals are always being scolded by parents and being told “Don’t touch yourself!” or “That’s dirty!” This can understandably lead to these individuals having touch-related issues later on in life, negatively impacting on the way they express themselves physically and intimately. It could even potentially pose a risk to their health; both genders are encouraged to perform self-examinations, women to check their breasts for cancer and men to check for lumps that could indicate testicular cancer. </li></ul><ul><li>For people who have been discouraged, or may have never even touched themselves sexually, this could obviously be a difficult barrier to overcome. Therefore, what is a necessary and innocent activity becomes misconstrued to be associated with guilt and consequently avoided. </li></ul>
  12. 13. Research <ul><li>Touch can be associated with guilt and sex so early on in life that it becomes an integral part of the individuals developing personality. Putting touch firmly into this context means that for that person, touch becomes a lead in to sex and forms of touch, such as intimate touch, is avoided because sex should be avoided. </li></ul><ul><li>This basic pleasure avoidance syndrome is one that is difficult to overcome. What the individual is unconsciously avoiding is the feeling of guilt and the associated conditioned feelings of nastiness that were impressed on them when young. </li></ul>
  13. 14. Useful Journals <ul><li>Emotion </li></ul><ul><li>Journal of Counseling Psychology </li></ul><ul><li>Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews </li></ul><ul><li>Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin </li></ul>
  14. 15. Useful Books <ul><li>The Psychology of Touch by Morton A Heller and William Schiff </li></ul><ul><li>The Psychology of Touch by Stephen Thayer </li></ul><ul><li>Touch and Blindness: Psychology and Neuroscience by Morton A Heller and Soledad Ballesteros </li></ul>
  15. 16. Experts <ul><li>Morton A Heller – Psychology Professor at Eastern Illinois University, research includes Blindness, Tactile Pictures, Illusions, Spatial Imagery, Spatial Cognition and Memory. </li></ul><ul><li>Peter Cahusac - lecturer in Neuroscience, University of Stirling </li></ul><ul><li>Stephen Thayer – Department of Psychology, City College of the City University of New York. </li></ul>
  16. 17. Blogs and Articles on the Web <ul><li>SkinInc – The Psychology of Touch </li></ul><ul><li>Enotes – Touch </li></ul><ul><li>EHow – Psychology of Human Touch </li></ul><ul><li>The New York Times – The Psychology of Touch </li></ul><ul><li>Psychology Today – Handshake or Hug? Why we Touch </li></ul>
  17. 18. References <ul><li>The New York Times: SkinInc: World Psychology: eHow: ACME Lab Yale University: http:// DePauw University: http:// =21&staff=1 http:// mwkraus Personal webpage: http:// / LinkedIn: Mind and Its Potential: Wikipedia: http:// http:// http:// </li></ul>