8/16/02 Soft Touch is Special, Scientists
Neuroscientists have discovered what romantics have always known: The touch of a lover's hand is special. Scientists announced a study that shows humans have a special set of nerves for feeling pleasure at a mother's caress or a lover's embrace. These nerves are sensitive to the soft touch of fingers gliding over a forearm or a parent's soothing hand, but not to rough touches, jabs or pinches. Scientists speculate that the nerves might be designed to guide humans toward tenderness and nurture, a theory bolstered by the fact that the nerves activate the same brain areas activated by romantic love and sexual arousal. Source: June 2002 issue of Nature Neuroscience
Source: http://tuberose.com/touch.pdf But link no longer works so glad I copied article.
Highlights of article shared under the educational fair use provision of Copyright law with full credit and with no financial benefit.
Aside from being your gateway to touch and a great
place to hang your clothes, your skin is also your largest organ. In a grown
man, it covers about 19 square feet and weighs about 8 pounds. A piece of skin
the size of a quarter contains more than 3 million cells, 100 to 340 sweat
glands, 50 nerve endings and 3 feet of blood vessels. No one is exempt from
needing to be touched. Humans need to touch and be
touched, just like we need food and water. The connection between touch and well
being is far more than skin deep. From the moment of birth our tactile
sense is being stimulated. Pushed out, picked up, and slapped on the bottom, we
are placed at our mother’s breast, and a bonding process begins.
The need for bonding, or close physical contact with another human being, remains with us throughout our lifetime. It generally feels good to have another human being’s skin come into contact with our own. Some of us repress our craving for warmth and affection, while others go to extremes to obtain it. Much of how we function as adults, depends on how we were nurtured during infancy. We have all experienced moments when the touch of a hand on our shoulder or a reassuring hug was all that was needed to reduce our fear, anxiety, or loneliness. Touching is an act of love, a way of communicating without words.
Touching can reassure us, relax us, comfort us, or arouse us, like nothing else. In a way, the importance of touch is so basic that we tend to take it for granted, just as we do breathing. As children, we were curious to touch everything we saw. But frequently as our hands reached out to explore, an adult voice could be heard to say, "don’t touch," followed by an assortment of reasons implying that touching could be dangerous, rude, disrespectful, shameful, unsanitary, and even sinful. Many of us have been taught, either openly or by example, that touching is something to be suspicious of and avoided. This kind of ingrained thinking is often responsible for the sexual dysfunction we experience as adults. These constraints are difficult to shed, further inhibiting us from natural physical contact with others.
Often we regard touch as an amorphous, nonspecific kind of thing. But it isn’t. You can be made to roll over with laughter with touch or you can be put to sleep with touch. All too often accidental touching, especially in public embarrasses us. Even an innocent handshake, if too prolonged, can be misconstrued as an invitation to a sexual encounter. Because touching has an excess of negative associations, with very little provocation it seems we flee from intimacy. In terms of sexual arousal, whatever you might see won’t compare to ten seconds of the right touch. And as for pain, no matter how much you think a shrill sound or shocking image could make you grimace—forget it. There’s nothing that hurts more than one stiff punch. Women are generally freer about hugging each other and holding hands. But if a woman is naturally tactile with men, her behavior can be easily misunderstood. Traditionally, a woman is taught to control any display of affection that could be interpreted as sexual; except with her partner.
Serious research on the importance of touch began only about 40 years ago. But, since that time, scientists have shown that the amount of body contact in our lives plays a vital role in our mental and physical development as infants and in our happiness and vigor as adults. Touch influences our ability to deal with stress and pain, to form close relationships with other people, and even to fight off disease. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even apes in trees do it…touches, that is. Especially the apes in trees. In fact, in addition to live births, giving milk and having hair on their bodies, the need for touch is the one thing that all mammals—humans included—seem to share. Mammalian systems are designed so that the infant care-giving process involves an enormous amount of contact. Among our closest relatives, the primates, contact between mother and baby is constant. For all mammals, touch is clearly important developmentally. Touch loses some of its importance, as mammals grow older. But it still quite obviously remains important, and not only to humans. Consider the other mammals that we humans come in contact with most often. Dog owners know that Fido revels in having his neck or chin scratched. How many cat owners have never had an arching, purring feline rub against their legs? And dairy farmers will tell you that all cows love to be milked. Even the largest of all mammals seem to enjoy touch. Despite every good reason to fear humans, whales such as the humpback (up to 62 feet long and up to 53 tons) have been known to pop their prodigious heads out of the sea and allow themselves to be petted and scratched, sometimes for hours.
Various studies have shown that when someone else gently holds a person’s wrist, heartbeat slows and blood pressure declines. Children and adolescents, hospitalized for psychiatric problems, show remarkable reductions in anxiety levels and positive changes in attitude when they receive a brief daily back rub. The arteries of rabbits fed a high-cholesterol diet and petted regularly had 60% fewer blockages than did the arteries of un-petted but similarly fed rabbits. Rats, handled for 15 minutes a day during the first three weeks of their lives, showed dramatically less brain cell deterioration and memory loss as they grew old, compared with non-handled rats. Despite all these reasons to really reach out and touch someone, Americans find it difficult, and we don’t do it often. Aside from a brisk handshake or an occasional embrace at the airport gate, touching just isn’t a big part of our culture.
One study in the 1960s showed a stark contrast between cultures by noting the number of touches exchanged by pairs of people sitting in coffee shops around the world: In San Juan, Puerto Rico, people touched 180 times an hour; in Paris, France, 110 times an hour; in Gainesville, Florida, 2 times per hour; and in London, England, they never touched. A society’s touch habits reflect the way people relate on other levels. Americans tend to be a touch cooler than, say, the cheek-kissing Italians or Spaniards. Our physical distancing partially reflects our psychological need for autonomy and independence.
Part of the blame for our society’s taboo on touch, lies with the chin-scratching father of modern-day psychology, Sigmund Freud. Freud encouraged austerity in dealing with children. And parents, in an effort to be good parents, bought into that behavior. People, who aren’t cuddled a lot as kids, tend to develop into non-touching adults. The cycle then repeats itself, generation after generation. But, Americans, particularly as they become more aware of the potential benefits of touch, are starting to do something about it. This change is especially tangible in the healing arts.
Born To Be Touched
The need for touch, as important as it is throughout our lives, is never more crucial than immediately following and shortly after exit from the womb. Because vision and hearing take time to fully develop, touch becomes possibly the most critical of all the senses to the newborn. There’s no question that babies deprived of motherly affection don’t fare too well—emotionally or physically. Years of experience with infants raised in public institutions have shown this to be true. Earlier in the century, infants, forced to live in such sterile environments, often wasted away and died. Back then, no one could provide any good explanations. Today, scientists offer fresh insight. Their studies on both human and animal babies have shown that the brain—by releasing or withholding certain chemicals— regulates the physical and emotional development of the infant. And the brain’s actions, in turn, are controlled by touch. In studies with premature infants, half of the tiny babies, selected at random, were gently stroked for 45 minutes a day. The other half was not. Although all were fed the same amount of calories, after ten days, the touched babies weighed-in 47% heavier than the unstimulated group. Not only were those babies bigger, they were happier as well. The stroked kids were more active, more alert and more responsive to social stimulation.
In the adolescent years, the parents and child begin to withdraw from one another; the teenager, out of a sense of self-consciousness with her new feelings and physical changes, and the parents, out of book-learned attitudes and discomfort with their developing offspring. Hugging, kissing, and physical closeness may diminish or stop completely then, leaving the young adult starved for affection. This hunger is often satiated through indiscriminate sex with peers; a way of continuing touching where parents left off. The need for touching does not exclude the elderly. While the skin of an older person may be aesthetically less appealing because of wrinkles, spotting, and dryness, the human being inside the skin craves touching more than ever.
In the rat world, the equivalent of maternal stroking, hugging and tickling is licking. But because it’s difficult to teach a mother rat to lick or not lick on command, it was found that a wet paintbrush makes a fairly good tongue substitute. As the animals were made to believe that their mothers’ affections were being turned on and off, it soon became clear that something else was being turned on and off at the same time: the brain’s release of beta-endorphins, a chemical that appears to affect many aspects of growth and development.
When an infant rat senses that its mother is absent, it reacts the way you might if you were stuck at sea in a small lifeboat. First it cries, and then it immediately quiets down. In a lifeboat, you’d probably do everything to conserve your food and water. And the helpless baby whose mom has disappeared shifts all its energy to support its life functions—neglecting those cellular functions that can make it grow up big and strong. The same kinds of physical reactions are going on in human infants deprived of touch. There was a period of about 30 years where the advice was to keep the baby away from the mother for the first week. But in the last few years, there has been a complete turn-around in pediatric practice. Now major efforts are being made to keep babies with their mothers right from the beginning. There are health benefits from snuggling and stroking pet animals, even inanimate objects—teddy bears, for instance. Look at primitive cultures—they’re all very touch-oriented. If you want to go back further and look at the higher primates (the closest biological relatives to humans), in every single species, contact plays a very powerful role.
In modern times, health care has strayed far from those primal roots. For while it might seem logical to incorporate touch as part of the healing process, medical historians generally agree that one of the first pieces of technology that set into motion the depersonalizing process in medicine appeared in 1819, with a piece of hardware called the stethoscope. This was the introduction of the technique of auscultation, the science of making diagnoses by listening to internal sounds of the human body. It gave the doctor a whole new way of collecting information about the patient’s heart, lungs, and abdomen. It eliminated the old practice of pressing one’s ear to the patient’s chest. The stethoscope replaced this gesture with something more informative, but less intimate. It eliminated the soothing effect of human touch. More patients are turning to the hands-on skills of chiropractors, massage therapists, and other body workers, for a multitude of problems.
Study: Hugging Warms The Heart, And Also May Protect It Link to sexwork.com article