Human touch important
What Is Touch Starvation? 20 Things to Watch for, What to Do, and More
Humans are wired to be touched. From birth until the day we die, our need for physical contact remains.
Being touch starved — also known as skin hunger or touch deprivation — occurs when a person experiences little to no touch from other living things.
Indeed. The condition seems to be more common in countries that are becoming increasingly touch averse.
For example, a 2015 study measured to what degree people welcomed touch in five countries. Finland and France were found to be at the top, while the United Kingdom was at the bottom.
Why cultures vary in their acceptance of touch, no one is sure. It may be due to the rise in technology use, a fear of touching being viewed as inappropriate, or cultural factors.
But research from 2014 has found that missing out on regular human touch can have some serious and long-lasting effects.
Definitely not. Any and all positive touch is considered beneficial.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are losing out on workplace handshakes, friendly hugs, or pats on the back, which can result in feelings of touch starvation.
For some, the pandemic has also brought a decline in sensual touching, such as holding hands, back scratching, and foot rubbing, too.
Scientists have found that a system of nerve fibers, called C-tactile afferents, exists to recognize any form of gentle touch.
In fact, according to a 2017 study, the ideal touching speed is about 3 centimeters per second.
This releases oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.”
Skin-to-skin contact is vital not only for mental and emotional health but physical health, too.
When you feel snowed under or pressured, the body releases the stress hormone cortisol. One of the biggest things touch can do is reduce such stress, allowing the immune system to work the way it should.
Touch can also calm certain bodily functions, such as your heart rate and blood pressure.
It does so by stimulating pressure receptors that transport signals to the vagus nerve. This nerve connects the brain to the rest of the body. It uses the signals to slow the pace of the nervous system.
In early life, touch is thought to be crucial for building healthy relationships by stimulating pathways for oxytocin, the natural antidepressant serotonin, and the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine.
Plus, it can tackle loneliness. According to a 2017 study, gentle touch can reduce both pain and feelings of social exclusion.
There’s no definitive way to know. But in a nutshell, you may feel overwhelmingly lonely or deprived of affection.
These symptoms may be combined with:
- feelings of depression
- low relationship satisfaction
- difficulty sleeping
- a tendency to avoid secure attachments
You may also subconsciously do things to simulate touch, such as taking long, hot baths or showers, wrapping up in blankets, and even holding on to a pet.
Some people closely link touch with trust. If they don’t trust a person, they’re unlikely to want that person to touch them. But that doesn’t mean they don’t long for the benefits of a hug or handshake.
For example, not liking touch is sometimes reported by people on the neurodiverse spectrum and people who are asexual.
It may also be a result of childhood experiences. A 2012 study suggests that people whose parents were regular huggers were more likely to hug people in adulthood.
Failing to experience frequent positive touch as a child may affect the development of the oxytocin system and the child’s intimacy and social skills — although this isn’t true for everyone.
Touch starvation doesn’t have to last forever.
Here are some simple ways to welcome more affection into your liferight now.
Keep in mind you may need to dial these activities back a bit during the COVID-19 pandemic, or avoid them until your local health officials give the OK:
- Try out a massage. Whether you ask a loved one or visit a professional, massages can help you relax and enjoy the benefits of another person’s touch.
- Spend some quality time with animals. Often all too happy to cuddle, pets are the ideal soothing mechanism. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of animals transmitting the coronavirus to people is low, based on limited information currently available.
- Get your nails done. A manicure or pedicure may give you the human contact you need, and a new look to boot. When your local health department gives the OK, think about dressing up your hands and feet.
- Visit the hair salon. If you don’t fancy a cut, book yourself a wash and blow-dry for ultimate relaxation.
- Learn to dance. Most slow dances are built around skin-to-skin contact. That may not be a good choice during the pandemic. But as soon as you’re vaccinated and your health department gives a thumbs-up, think about learning some new moves.
- Go to a cuddle party. Yes, these are real. And no, they’re not as strange as they sound. As soon as you and your friends are vaccinated and your health department gives the go-ahead for indoor gatherings, consider trying it out.
With lockdowns, closed businesses, and medical advice to physically distance and avoid touching people not in your household, human touch has dwindled to a slow stream. For some, it has dried up altogether.
Medical facilities like the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco and the Texas Medical Center warn that touch starvation is real. It’s important to find ways to keep in touch during the pandemic.
Sustaining regular touch during the COVID-19 pandemic can be challenging. If you live with other people or are part of a pod, there are likely people you can touch safely. You might try the tips below.
- Sit close to your loved ones. Instead of spreading out on the couch, make an effort to cuddle up during your Netflix sprees.
- Greet household members with a hug. If hugging people within your household or pod is safe, try this type of greeting. It may help both of you satisfy your touch hunger.
- Use touch when appropriate. In a romantic relationship, hold hands or cuddle. In platonic ones, reassure people with a touch to the arm or a pat on the back. Always make sure the touch is safe and other people are comfortable before going ahead.
For your loved ones
- Give them plenty of positive touch. This can range from gentle strokes to full-on cuddling a few times a day.
- Avoid associating touch with negativity. Don’t pinch or push or do anything that takes away the feel-good vibes of physical contact.
- Let children be close to you as often as possible. Allowing your child to sit on your lap or gently massaging your baby are important for bonding and the emotional growth of the child.
If you can’t touch safely
Maybe you’re one of the 35.7 million Americans who live alone. Or maybe you live with people who work in high-risk settings. Or perhaps touch in pandemic circumstances just isn’t worth the risk to you.
In these and countless other scenarios, you may not have the opportunity for touch, or you may not feel safe with any human touch right now. There are still ways you can help satisfy your touch hunger — without physical contact.
Try the tips below. They might not be the real thing, but they do provide human contact and interaction:
- Meet new people or connect with friends online. Technology provides many ways for online contact. Try video chat or virtual exercise classes or book clubs.
- Wave to neighbors or passersby. Most of us take a daily walk. Try waving and maybe even meeting new people, from a physical distance, of course.
- Host an online dinner. Invite family and friends to share a meal via a video app like Skype or FaceTime.
- Connect via text and email. Be sure to use lots of emojis or gifs that emphasize physical touch, like thumbs-up or waving hands.
- Talk with neighbors outside. Chat at a safe distance through a window or from a porch or backyard.
- Try new outdoor group activities. Some group activities let you be with others without the risk involved in close quarters or touching. Try classes that involve physical distancing like yoga, painting, or tai chi.
If you’re feeling touch starved, you haven’t sealed your fate. There are plenty of ways to beat the condition and inspire positive, affectionate touch in those around you.
Lauren Sharkey is a journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.
The Vital Importance of Human Touch
Let’s be honest. The past 18 months have not invited a lot of touch. Quarantined at home and isolated from friends, many people have felt a lack of connection both emotionally as well as physically. Hugs and handshaking happen much less frequently now. And although the world is slowly returning to normal, the rise of the Delta variant suggests that social distancing will likely continue to define our social interactions for some time.
Much has been written in the media about the limits that social distancing has placed on single people’s sexual activity. As a human sexuality professor, I hear all about this from my students as well as from my followers. What’s largely been missed, though, is a more subtle yet even more fundamental need: the need for human touch.
The Science of Touch
The research demonstrating the need for human touch is vast. From a developmental standpoint, infants literally cannot survive without human touch. Skin-to-skin contact in even in the first hour after birth has been shown to help regulate newborns’ temperature, heart rate, and breathing, and decreases crying (Ferber, Feldman, & Makhoul, 2008). Touch also increases mothers' relaxation hormones and aids in the release of oxytocin. A now-famous study examined the sensory deprivation of children in understaffed orphanages in Romania (Carlson & Earls, 1997). The touch-deprived children, the authors found, had strikingly lower cortisol and growth development levels for their age group.
Harlow’s Monkey experiments (Harlow & Harlow, 1965) are perhaps the most famous example of research pointing at the primacy of the need for touch. In a series of experiments, Harlow created inanimate surrogate mothers for baby monkeys made from wire and wool. Each infant became attached to its particular “mother,” recognizing its unique face and preferring it above others.
Next, Harlow presented the infants with a soft, cuddly clothed "mother" as well as a wire "mother" located in two separate but attached chambers. Only the wire “mother” held a bottle with food. Harlow found that the monkeys spent far more time next snuggled against the cloth “mother” than they spent with the wire “mother” even though the wire “mother” was the only one with food. Food may be necessary for survival, but touch is what sustains us.
Later in his career, Harlow carried out perhaps his most controversial study, by cultivating infant monkeys in isolation chambers for up to 24 months. The infant monkeys emerged from isolation deeply disturbed, a finding of which many credit as having started the animal rights movement.
Since Harlow’s experiments, research has uncovered an astonishing number of poor health outcomes that result when we are deprived of touch. The correlation between anxiety, depression and stress and touch is large and inversely related. It has been found that touch calms our nervous center and slows down our heartbeat. Human touch also lowers blood pressure as well as cortisol, our stress hormone. It also triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone known for promoting emotional bonding to others.
Studies using PET scans have found that the brain quiets in response to stress when a person’s hand is held. The effect is greatest when the hand being held is that of a loved one, but it still works even if it’s just a stranger (Field, 2010).
Research also suggests a negative correlation between touch and the severity of borderline personality disorder symptoms (Field, 2010). This suggests that the effects of touch extend to our basic neural circuitry. Even our immune response seems to be somewhat governed by touch, with the finding that those who are deprived of human touch are more likely to suffer from immune system diseases. It’s ironic that during a highly contagious pandemic where our immune systems are being the most stressed, we are being deprived of something (human touch) that is so essential to its function.
How to Increase Touch in Your Life
Given the obvious importance of human touch, one question may be how to introduce more of it into your life. Even for those lucky enough to live with families or other people one has podded with, the amount of touch we are receiving has undoubtedly decreased since before the pandemic.
Research shows that one of the most effective ways to benefit from the therapeutic benefits of touch is through massage. Massage therapy has been shown to ease depression, increase attentiveness and enhance immune function (Lindgren, Jacobsson & Lamas, 2014). If massage therapy is not your thing, maybe a manicure or pedicure or other type of spa treatment that involves touch is. Pets have also been found to mimic some of the benefits of human touch, so long as you spend ample time petting them (Young et al. 2020). Although weighted blankets aren’t human, they’ve been found to calm the nervous system in the same manner as touch. Just pretend you are one of Harlow’s monkeys.
Consent is Key
One final note: Although the need for human touch is immense, it’s important to highlight consent. Just because you are in desperate need of touch does not mean that any other person is obligated to give it to you, nor should they be pressured into doing so. This rule extends to children especially, who are learning the importance of recognizing their own privacy spheres. This may not go over well with grandma and grandpa, but the criticality of consent is an important enough lesson that drawing the line is worth it.
Facebook image: AlessandroBiascioli/Shutterstock
CARLSON, M. and EARLS, F. (1997), Psychological and Neuroendocrinological Sequelae of Early Social Deprivation in Institutionalized Children in Romania. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 807: 419-428
Harlow HF, Dodsworth RO & Harlow MK (1965). "Total social isolation in monkeys". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 54 (1): 90–97.
Lindgren L, Jacobsson M, Lämås K. “Touch Massage, a Rewarding Experience.” Journal of Holistic Nursing. 2014;32(4):261-268.
Ferber, Feldman & Makhoul (2010) “The development of maternal touch across the first year of life,” Early Human Development, Volume 84, Issue 6,
Field, T. (2010),”Touch for socioemotional and physical well-being: A review”
Developmental Review, Volume 30, Issue 4, Pages 367-383
Young J., Pritchard R., Nottle C., & Banwell H. (2020) “Pets, touch, and COVID-19: health benefits from non-human touch through times of stress.” Journal of Behavioral Economics for Policy, Vol. 4
Skin hunger: why do we miss touching each other so much?
- William Parke
- BBC Future
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Image copyright Getty Images
No hugs, no handshakes, no just a light touch on the shoulder or arm. Skin (or tactile) hunger is something that many suffer from without even realizing it, and not just in pandemic quarantine.
For many of us, the past few months of self-isolation - when there was no physical contact with either friends or colleagues - could feel like years.
"I can't do my job without touching the person. It's part of my job," says Joe Adenuga, a makeup artist based in London.
Since the end of March, when the lockdown was announced in the UK, beauty professionals across the country have been forced to stop working.
"I enjoy chatting with my clients. And being close to them is very important. I usually sit directly in front of the client and constantly touch his face during work. When the work stopped, it was a serious psychological blow for me, especially in the first two weeks," says Adenuga.
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And it's not even about the loss of earnings, she emphasizes. Adenuga is accustomed to the seasonality of her work. Most of her clients are brides, and weddings peak at certain times of the year. There is a quiet season when she has less work, and then, on the contrary, she herself pays photo models to replenish her portfolio for advertising on Instagram.
"I miss my job so much," says Adenuga. "My husband says, damn, don't come near me with your brush!"
But it's not just the beauty industry that has been affected by the lockdown: social distancing has made work difficult for many, from tailors to personal fitness trainers. Some have adapted to use videoconferencing.
"When the world began to move into the virtual space, I started video consultations, explaining to others how to do make-up," says Adenuga. .
Adenuga suffers from the so-called skin (tactile) hunger - a condition in which a person experiences an acute lack of touch, skin-to-skin contacts. She, like many others, during the lockdown, it became very clear how much less emotional life has become while observing social distancing.
Image copyright MCM LondonImage caption
Adenuga says she can't work without touching her clients without being in close proximity to them
Someone who lives with a large family or rents with friends is a little more fortunate: they can hug, touch each other, like makeup artist Mary Greenwell, who described her feelings on Instagram.
Her followers reacted immediately. "Isn't it funny that a human touch - and not a lover or even a relative - turned out to be so important to us?" "So many older people miss the human touch - sometimes the only person who touches them is the hairdresser. And that's an important part of being human, right? My thoughts are with those old people who live alone."
But why do we crave intimacy with others? And why is human touch so hard to replace?
Corey Floyd, professor at the University of Arizona (USA) - an expert on the problems of lack of care. Tactile hunger, lack of touch is just one aspect. Older people may also suffer from other deficits - for example, they simply have no one to talk to.
Image copyright, Getty ImagesImage caption,
Tactile hunger is not limited to the young
The situation in which almost the whole world finds itself now is unique in that those who previously felt isolated from society remained so, while others who had never experienced anything like this before were deprived of such a simple element life is like touching another person.
You can communicate both by phone and via video. But this does not give us the opportunity to touch each other, and the consequences of this are already visible.
According to Floyd, we experience tactile hunger when we notice a discrepancy between the amount of touch we want and the amount we actually get. This is very similar to the usual feeling of hunger - we notice it only when we do not get enough food.
Image copyright, Getty ImagesImage caption,
Moscow barber shops have reopened despite Russia still being among the countries with the highest number of coronavirus cases
says Floyd, "They just don't feel right, and it's really because they haven't hugged anyone for three weeks in a row, haven't touched their grandchildren, or haven't been around their parents, partner."
It is clear that in some people this hunger is stronger. This is a very personal trait, although, as Floyd notes, there are very few who do not need human touch at all.
"Some people try to avoid touching," he says, "and some people just need it. But most people are somewhere in the middle of these two opposites. "
But in general, those who feel lonely suffer more from the lack of touch.
"And the loneliest, according to research, are young people," he emphasizes. "In second place are the elderly. Both of them suffer the most from tactile hunger."
According to Floyd, the life of the elderly in lockdown has not changed much - except that they have lost the opportunity to see their grandchildren. But the hardest hit were those who, in normal times, were surrounded by friends and loved ones on a daily basis.
Image copyright, EPAImage caption,
In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a woman hugs her 82-year-old father through a "hugging curtain"
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Various gadgets and devices are trying to replace the human touch - from telematic "Internet prostheses" to soft and warm, human-sized pillows. The replacement is unequal.
In the case of telematics, remote touch is controlled by the hand of a loved one, and the realization of this can be pleasant. But this is not at all the same as the real touch of a living person.
Before the dangerous coronavirus began to spread around the planet, people who felt skin hunger could at least go to special "hug parties" where strangers could mutually agree to touch each other, and sometimes very emotionally, but under controlled and therefore safe conditions.
However, this solution is not perfect either. Such a touch, although quite real, but, according to Floyd, he lacks sincerity.
"Of course, it's better than nothing (if you don't mind such touches), but still, you can't replace the touch of a loved one, a loved one," he emphasizes.
"When touch is complemented by a positive emotional connection with another person, it multiplies its usefulness."
Image copyright, Getty ImagesImage caption,
Someone to hug? Cuddle your or your neighbor's cat - and you will be happy and happy
And in this sense, even touching your pet - a dog or a cat - can be extremely beneficial. Unlike "hug parties", your pet's affection cannot be questioned, it's real. Your dog or cat also enjoys tactile contact with you.
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Animal shelters around the world are reporting an increased demand for their pets, and in the US, some shelters even have no one left - they have all been sorted out.
A number of US healthcare workers have called for no more handshakes - there have even been proposals to abandon the habit of shaking hands altogether, even when the pandemic is over.
As Adenuga now reflects, returning to work will mean for her that she will have to wear gloves and a mask to receive clients.
While she is at a loss as to how she will be able to carry out all the previous manipulations with gloves - after all, most of her work involves touching a person's face. But she hopes she finds a way.
Image copyright, Getty ImagesImage caption,
Will the pandemic force us to stop touching entirely - at least at work?
What worries her more is that with her face hidden behind a mask, it will be more difficult for her to find contact with client brides, who are often very nervous before the wedding, and earlier Adenuga managed to calm them down, creating a relaxed atmosphere of light chatter. What will it look like with the mask on her face?
"I doubt it will work the way it used to. It just dawned on me."
So, such close contacts will forever be a thing of the past?
"I'm guessing we'll be back to normal very quickly. Whether we should be is another question," Floyd muses. "But pandemics have happened around the world before. And the old ways of communicating haven't gone away."
"Close contacts have a calming effect on us, they are important for our psychological and physical condition. So, after a certain period of increased caution, I think we will quickly return to normal."
Read this article in English at BBC Future .
Composition "Human touch" • Science and education ONLINE
Main Competition works Subject education Philological disciplines Essay "Human touch"
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