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Touch

Touch And Health

Touch has a tremendous impact on most animals' physical and psychological well being. Numerous studies of humans and other animals have shown that touch greatly impacts how we develop physically and respond to the world mentally. For example, premature babies that receive regular massages will gain weight more rapidly and develop faster mentally than those who do not receive the same attention. When baby rats are separated from their mothers for only 45 minutes, they undergo physiological or biochemical changes, specifically a reduction in a growth hormone. Touching of premature babies can also stimulate growth hormones (such as the hormone needed to absorb food) that occur naturally in healthy babies.

A baby does not have to be premature or sickly to benefit from touch. Even healthy babies show benefits from touch in terms of emotional stability. Difficult children often have a history of abuse and neglect. The reason is that touch serves as a type of reassurance to infants that they are loved and safe, which translates into emotional well being. In general, babies who are held and touched more tend to develop better alertness and cognitive abilities over the long run.

Touch continues to have a great psychological impact throughout peoples' lives. Even adults who are hospitalized or sick at home seem to have less anxiety and tension headaches when they are regularly touched or caressed by caretakers or loved ones. Numerous studies have shown that touch also has a healing power. Researchers have found that touch reduces rapid heart beats and irregular heart beats (arrhythmias). Another study showed that baby rats who are touched often during infancy develop more receptors to control the production of biochemicals called glucocorticoids, which are known as stress chemicals because of their ability to cause muscle shrinkage, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and more.

Touch's psychological impact goes beyond physical and mental health. Researchers have shown that touch is a powerful persuasive force. For example, studies have shown that touch can have a big impact in marketing and sales. Salespeople often use touch to establish a camaraderie and friendship that can result in better sales. In general, people are more likely to respond positively to a request if it is accompanied by a slight touch on the arm or hand. In a study of waiters and waitresses, for example, those that lightly touched a patron often received better tips.

See also Perception.

Resources

Books

Ackerman, Diane. A Natural History of the Senses. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

Bennet, Thomas L. The Sensory World. An Introduction to Sensation and Perception. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1978.

Moller, Aage R. Sensory Systems: Anatomy and Physiology. New York: Academic Press, 2002.

Periodicals

Ponte, Lowell. "The Sense That Shapes Our Future." Readers Digest (January 1992): 21-26.

Weider, Betty. "Therapeutic Touch." Shape (May 1992): 32.


David Petechuk

KEY TERMS

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Biochemical

—The biological or physiological chemicals of living organisms.

Central nervous system

—The brain and spinal cord components of the nervous system, which controls activities of internal organs, movements, perceptions, thoughts, and emotions.

Cerebral cortex

—The external gray matter surrounding the brain and made up of layers of nerve cells and fibers, thought to process sensory information and impulses.

Epidermis

—The outer layer of the skin consisting of dead cells. It is the primary protective barrier against sunlight, chemicals, and other possible harmful agents. The epidermal cells are constantly being shed and replenished.

Free nerve endings

—Touch receptors in the skin that detect light pressure.

Glucocorticoids

—A steroid or hormone like compound that affects metabolism and can have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Meissner corpuscles

—Touch receptors in the skin that are sensitive to touch. Named after German histologist Georg Meissner.

Neurons

—Nervous system unit that includes the nerve cell, dendrites, and axons.

Pacinian corpuscles

—Touch receptors in the skin that sense pressure and rapid or vibrating movement of the tissues, named after Italian anatomist Filippo Pacini.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Thallophyta to ToxicologyTouch - How We Feel The Outside World, Touch And Health