Psychology Behind Somatosensation

Psychology Behind Somatosensation


Somatosensation can be simply described as the process of giving meaning or perception of all the physical sensations that we feel through our sensory organs. These include sensations like touch, pressure, temperature, and pain that we receive via our sensory receptors. These receptors are located in the skin, primary sensory organs, muscles, joints, and other maternal organs too.

When we receive any physical stimuli it gets transferred in the form of neurotransmitters to our brain via the nervous system and there is interpreted to react after giving meaning and understanding the signal. This process plays a huge role in enabling us to be connected with our surroundings, defend us from possible dangers, and stimulate our immune system. It helps us maintain our bodily awareness. 

Read More: Psychology of Touch

Somatosensation lets you know if you are in pain, if you are feeling inflammation or if you are not well. Imagine how life would be if you never felt pain or such unpleasant sensations. Do you think it will be good? Absolutely not!

Somatosensation is one of the super necessary things for us to carry out daily living as it lets us interact with the environment that we live in and understand ourselves better.

If you weren’t able to sense pain or danger, you would not be able to save yourself from fatal life or health issues. It’s sort of an alarm to remind you to react when your body receptors sense any danger around. Not just that, if you were not blessed with somatosensation, you’d probably lose the essence of life. You wouldn’t be able to perceive and process activities or stimuli that evoke emotions. You wouldn’t be able to cherish the feeling of hugs, handshakes, and other meaningful sensations. Somatosensation also enables us to move, maintain balance, and coordinate well.

Read More: The Psychology of Hugs

Components of Somatosensation 

Now we’d have a look at the components of Somatosensation:

  • Tactile sensation: it simply includes all the touch-related stimuli and our perception of it. The way we can sense and distinguish different sensations when we come into contact with any stimuli. 
  • Thermal sensation: this allows us to sense different temperatures that’s how we can sense different seasonal conditions and react accordingly or prepare ourselves to withstand the climate conditions. Our body tries and prepare itself by adjusting to the temperature to keep up with our survival needs. 
  • Proprioception: this allows us to sense our movements and our body postures. Like if we are asked to tell where our nose is, we’d be able to place it without having to touch it or see it in the mirror.  Such ability fulfils the need to keep balance, coordinate and execute five movements. 
  • Nociception: this is the crucial one that helps you and alerts you if anything goes wrong within your body by letting you know the sense of pain. In case of any tissue damage or any other bodily crisis, it tries to catch your attention by pressing the pain alarm. 

All these components make us equipped to withstand all alarming situations, build endurance, and ensure our safety and well-being. 

Neural pathways involved in Somatosensation 

Now let’s move to the fascinating side of Somatosensation and explore what goes on in our body. 

When our receptors receive any stimuli or any kind of sensory information in any of our body parts, the signal is carried forward via a series of neural pathways to our brain to get processed let’s break it in easier points. 

  1. Dorsal column medial lemniscus pathway: The pathway that is responsible for carrying forward the touch-related or proprioceptive information from our sensory receptors to the brain is called the Dorsal column medial lemniscus pathway. The sensation or say the signals are sent up the spinal cord via dorsal columns and the synapse in the medulla followed by the thalamus and further to the Somatosensation cortex to finally interpret that signal to respond to it. 
  2. Spinothalamic pathway: this is responsible for carrying information relevant to pain and Temperature. Like the previous one, it also commutes via the spinal cord and synapses right before crossing to the opposite side moving to the brainstem and thalamus, further reaching the cortex. 
  3. Spinocerebellar pathway: this one is responsible for proprioception and coordination of body movements. But this one carries information directly to the cerebellum. 

The Psychology of Somatosensation 

It puts emphasis on our brain’s way to process and interpret the sensory signal received from sensory organs. It focuses on psychological phenomenon like perception, emotion and other respective attributes that are influenced by touch-related sensations. Proprioception and other somatosensory experiences. We have all read and have experienced too that touch plays a huge role in making attachments and social connections. Like discussed earlier hugs, handshakes and other intimate tactile sensation and all this does prove that Somatosensation holds psychological importance too. 

Read More: Importance of Physical touch and 9 easy ways to cope with its absence

Disorders of Somatosensation 

There is often some discoordination faced in this phenomena that often leads to some serious problems that we’d now read about.

  • Peripheral neuropathy: It corresponds to the damage to our peripheral nerves, which leads to unusual sensations like tingling, numbness and pain in affected areas. This disorder affects an individual’s ability to sense touch and respond to temperature or pain. 
  • Somatosensory processing disorder: here corresponds to the inability of our brain to receive and respond to sensory stimuli. People with this issue might report heightened or diminished sensitivity to touch movement or proprioception, leading to problems in carrying out survival activities. 
Potential Treatment 

As per the severity and complications of the disorder, medication are provided. Other ways to deal with the problems are physical therapy to improve sensory processing enhance proprioception, restore movements and normal functioning in such patients. 

Then there are further more options like sensory integration therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy, even nerve blocks or injections work as alternative options. Such procedures might manage pain and improve symptoms. 

It’s a sensitive topic that seeks attention as with such disorders are at constant risk of life, due to their inability to sense several other signals to alert themselves. It necessary for such people to be in consistent care of health care professionals and keep working towards their improvements. Treatments and the degree of progress depend on individual causes of the disorder and other factors and this is why professionals often recommend a multidisciplinary approach.

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Reference +
  • (PDF) human somatosensory processing and artificial somatosensation. (n.d.-g).
  • Somatosensation. Somatosensation – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.).
  • Wang, L., Ma, L., Yang, J., & Wu, J. (2021, July 2). Human somatosensory processing and artificial somatosensation. Cyborg and bionic systems (Washington, D.C.).

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