In 1967 the humanistic psychologist Dr. Sidney Jourard made an informal study of touch. He travelled to several countries observing how many times people touched one another in informal settings. The cultural differences were striking. In Puerto Rico he counted 180 touches an hour between two people. In Mexico City it was 185. In Paris it was 115. In Florida it was two and in London it was a big fat zero.
Touching and intimacy go hand in hand so here's 10 things you need to know before you lose touch with each other.
1. Touch is essential for normal physical, cognitive emotional and social development. (Hertenstein & Weiss 2011, Montagu 1986). The fingertips, clitoris and and penis have (in that order) the highest concentration of free nerve endings and specialised touch receptors.
2. Touch is an extremely important form of emotional communication. Experiments have shown that it can infer emotions such as anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness (Hertenstein, Holmes, McCullough, & Keltner, 2009).
3. It has also been shown to be more effective than verbal support at reducing harmful effects of stress such as elevated blood pressure, cortisol levels, and heart rate.
4. Physical contact and sexual arousal are obviously very closely linked, but touching has so many physical and psychological benefits that it really shouldn't be used solely as a precursor to sex. Simple gestures such as holding hands or running your fingers through your partners hair are a subtle reminder of the bond that exists between you, while rubbing, stroking, hugging, massaging or back-scratching show that you understand the intimate landscape of each others bodies.
5. A 2008 study of married couples which investigated whether 'warm touch' could influence physiological stress systems, found that in both partners, daily touching lead to an increase in salivary oxytocin and a reduction of alpha amylase, which is a biomarker for stress. Husbands in the intervention group also had significantly lower blood pressure (Holt-Lunstad, Birmingham & Light 2008).
6. In couples who have been together for less than a year, males touch females more frequently, but in couples who have been married for more than a year, wives are more likely to touch their husbands (Willis & Briggs. 1992)
7. People who don't get enough contact comfort as infants can have difficulty forming attachments in adult relationships. Harlow's experiments with macaque monkeys showed that infant monkeys who were deprived of contact comfort suffered reduced levels of essential growth hormone (Harlow 1962). 40 years later Ceaușescu's Romanian orphans provided living proof of the irreversible damage that could be caused by institutionalised neglect and the absence of physical contact and comfort.
8. Going without touch for just three days increases levels of stress and anxiety. The 'stress' hormone cortisol suppresses the immune system which makes us much more susceptible to illness.
9. Touch, on the other hand, increases the production of immunoglobin A which helps to increase the number of white cells in the blood and boosts the immune system.
10. Because physical contact also encourages our brains to produce more of the 'feel good' neurotransmitter serotonin, as well as the 'bonding' hormone oxytocin, it makes us feel relaxed and happy, and generally contributes to a sense of wellbeing (Floyd 2006).
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