From the earliest to the latest stages, human touch is vitally important. Parent-child touch forms the foundation of early childhood development, starting before birth through the toddler years. In daily life, positive touch causes humans to experience pleasure (see ref 4). The need for touch does not wane with aging. The sense of touch persists beyond the human functions of vision and hearing (see ref 3), indicating that the importance of human touch extends throughout the life span.
Infants and Children
In their book chapter, "Communicating through Touch: Touching During Parent-Infant Interactions," Dale M. Stack, Ph.D, and Amelie D. L. Jean discuss the sensitivities of the human embryo. At as early as 26 weeks, fetuses have responded to vibrations felt within the womb. Physical contact helps newborns regulate their body temperature, and contributes to their ability to regulate their emotions. Babies smiled and uttered sounds more frequently when stroked instead of being tickled or poked. The psychological health and physical growth of children is dependent upon human touch (see ref 2). Of the five senses, touch is developed first and informs self-awareness (see ref 3).
Stimulation Relieves Stress
When humans come in close contact with one another, even in minor ways, the hormone oxytocin is released. This hormone responds to nerve stimulation by activating a feeling a wellbeing and stress relief. It also helps individuals let their defenses down and open up to the possibility of trusting another person. These effects can be felt when light pressure is applied to the skin or when stroked or touched in an unharmful way (see ref 5).
Pleasure in Touching
Results from a study published in "Current Biology" in 2015 suggest that humans derive pleasure from touching one another's skin so much that experiencing that pleasure motivates the act of touching. Touch lights up the emotional regions of the brain. And when touching others' skin, individuals tend to think that the other person's forearm is smoother and softer than their own, regardless of whether or not this is true (see ref 4). Individuals were found to derive pleasure from giving touch as much as from receiving it - in anticipation of a shared experience.
Touching Later in Life
In the book, "Aging Our Way," by Meika Loe, Ph.D., interviews revealed that human touch is as important to the personal development of elders, aged 85 and older, as it is to newborns. Closeness and human contact not only offers affection for this population, but veneration as well. Human touch helps the aging population to feel connected, acknowledged and valued. They rely on human touch for survival and their overall wellbeing (see ref 1).
- Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond; Meika Loe, Ph.D.
- The Handbook of Touch: Neuroscience, Behavioral, and Health Perspectives; Dale M. Stack, Ph.D., and Amelie D. L. Jean
- Touch, Second Edition; Tiffany Field, Ph.D.
- Current Biology: Active Interpersonal Touch Gives Rise to the Social Softness Illusion
- National Institutes of Health: Self-Soothing Behaviors with Particular Reference to Oxytocin Release Induced by Non-Noxious Sensory Stimulation