Our need for touch
Ever felt good when patted on the back or after a hug by your close friends at the end of a long and tiring day? Did you ever ruffle someone’s hair as a way of saying hello or feel the need to touch someone to reaffirm your vocal message? All the above situations occur because humans, just like other mammals that live in packs or groups need the sense of touch to communicate a variety of messages. The sense of touch was our very first means of communication since birth. This form of communication is an integral and fundamental mode of human interaction. In today’s touch phobic society, we use less of this form of communication which is affecting our daily lives.
Communicating via sense of touch is called haptic communication.
Research conducted has shown that newborn babies can survive without the sense of sight and hearing but find it difficult to survive if they lack the sense of touch. In another research conducted by French scientists some two hundred years ago they discovered that human beings become nearly unrecognizable without the sense of touch.
These researches found a boy in the forest whom they first thought to be some creature resembling some human characteristics. They studied his behavior and brain development and determined that he was about eleven years old and he had been in the forest from his early childhood. They deemed him retarded but on further study by French physicians and psychiatrists they concluded that due to the lack of human touch, his social and developmental capacities were retarded. The above study tells us just how important human touch is to the emotional and physical wellbeing of people. Look around you; look at the variety of jobs that revolve around touch. Chiropractors, physiotherapists, acupuncture, masseuse, spa treatments etc. all involve people paying a premium to find their own professional way of satisfying a basic human need.
In today’s modern and digital society, personal space is integral to communication but if we look at the negative impact caused due to the loss of this sense, we will realize that we humans ourselves are going to be our own undoing. Studies show that human touch can result in decreased violence, greater trust between individual’s, economic gain, decreased disease and stronger immune system, stronger team dynamics, overall well-being, and more. Also, the neurotransmitter oxytocin that gives you the good feeling is released when you are touched.
Michelangelo once said
"To touch is to give life."
This has been proven true by research done by Darlene Francis and Michael Meaney. They found that rats whose mothers licked and groomed them a lot when they were infants grow up to be calmer and more resilient to stress and have a stronger immune system.
This also explains why human babies in orphanages don’t reach the zenith of their physical and mental developmental capacities. They are starved of human touch. To deny ourselves of touch is to deny us of our most basic and primitive need. In cultures where touch is not encouraged the rates of suicide and depressions are very high. This all proves that touch is an evolutionary trait we need to hold on to. This however does not mean you go up to a stranger and hug them. There are good touches and bad touches and we must do well to remember that.