Thursday, 10 October 2013

The importance of a loving touch

Most people like to feel that special, loving touch which is instinctive between a mother and her child or between romantic partners.  Typically a slow speed, light-stroking of the skin, the loving or affective touch has been linked with pleasant emotions as well as improving symptoms of anxiety and other emotional symptoms.

But how important are these emotional signals from the body? What role do they play in forming how we view our own self?  External signals, such as vision, influence our own mental image of ourselves.  Looking in the mirror, for example, effects how we think of our body – influencing how we form mental images and representations of our own body.

Dr Paul Jenkinson
Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire’s Department of Psychology, Dr Paul Jenkinson and PhD researcher Laura Crucianelli, together with Dr Aikaterini Fotopoulou at University College London, set out to test whether affective touch would affect the brain’s understanding of the body and sense of self.  The study incorporated four different types of touch: slow, affective touch in both regular and irregular stroking patterns; and a faster, neutral touch again in both regular and irregular stroking patterns.

Laura Crucianelli
The results confirmed that slow, light touch is more pleasant than fast touch – providing new evidence that the feelings and emotions created by a loving affective touch play a bigger role in our perception of how we feel about our body than originally thought.  The slow caresses or strokes in close relationships build a person’s sense of their body ownership which helps create a healthy sense of self - a previously crucial and neglected part of the process.

So the way we feel about our body from within may be more important than the way the body looks from the outside - having implications in the wider media and particularly around issues of body image and self-esteem.

You can read more about this research on Science Daily.

The paper “Bodily pleasure matters: Velocity of touch modulates body ownership during the rubber hand illusionis published in Frontiers in Psychology.

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