Social touch is a rare phenomenon in Western culture.
For some reason, we’ve been trained by society to believe that if someone touches us, it is a sexual contact and because of this, only certain people should be allowed to make physical contact with us.
One of the most unfortunate practices of this age is discouraging/punishing physical touch between people.
Research shows us that human touch releases Oxytocin into our bloodstream. Oxytocin is a major chemicals involved in the feelings of happiness, joy and a other positive emotions.
Here are a few important things that result from Oxytocin release.
Trust: Has anyone ever refused to shake your hand? Do you trust them? Also, the more we touch people in our close social/family network, the more likely we are to touch and trust the new people we meet.
Confidence: If you’ve ever been struggling with a problem or been unsure of your abilities, then you may have experienced the self-confidence boost that accompanies a simple, supportive hand on your shoulder.
Relationships: The mother/child bond is created through a huge burst of Oxytocin during the birthing process. If we touch others more regularly we release small doses of Oxytocin, creating a deeper and more lasting connection. How good does a hug feel?
Inhibits Addiction: By building trust, self-confidence, confidence in others and stronger relationships we release addictions. On a chemical level, Oxytocin balances out the Dopamine response (which is an addictive chemical that also creates sensations of happiness). Just for a moment, imagine the therapeutic applications of touch in addiction centres.
Immune function enhanced: All elements of our immune system are boosted with Oxytocin release. This has an especially profound effect when we live with generally high levels of Oxytocin in our bodies. We live happier, longer and healthier lives.
Improved problem solving ability: Oxytocin enhances creativity and helps the processing of information—especially social information.
Love: Yep. It’s responsible for feelings of love.
There have been studies to show how little we make physical contact with others in our everyday life that look into the frequency of contact in regular social settings.
In one particular study, in a given amount of time, two friends in England touch each other zero times, in America two friends touch each other twice and in the same while two friends in Puerto Rico touch each other 180 times.
Perhaps this could be the reason the Brit’s have a high incidence of depression? We’ve been blaming the weather, but what if we’ve been ignoring touch?
We also know that compassionate touch is actually a pre-requisite for thriving as an infant.
Unfortunately this was discovered in studies performed at orphanages before there were any ethics boards for experimental design and we discovered that touch is crucial to surviving past infancy. Babies who were not held failed to thrive, even when given the basics of food and water.
Beyond the chemical reactions that take place we also understand that there is an incredible amount of non-verbal information that is passed on through touch!
One particular study measured the success rate of emotional communication during one second of touch (without being able to see or hear the person making contact). Remarkably, they found that people “guessed” the correct emotion about 55% of the time on their first try. This was out of 12 emotions that were conveyed non-verbally.
So, out of 12 choices, study participants noted the correct response more than half the time they were touched. That’s clearly outside the realm of chance.
So here’s your homework assignment: go out and speak to people. Not with words; with your hands.
“My vision is to make touch a positive social value in our culture.” ~ David Palmer
Hugs, handshakes, a supportive hand on the shoulder or any touching done with compassion or kindness.
It’s immeasurably good for you.
And the best part? It’s pretty difficult to touch others without also being touched.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Drew Hume
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock