• Body, Mind, Spirit

  • Touch to make our world a better place!

    July 11, 2015
  • According to Vox Science and Health, we all have a special system for feeling emotional, social touch.

    There are two touch systems. The first one gives us the 'facts' - the location, movement, and strength of a touch - and we call that discriminative touch."

    The second is the emotional touch system. It's mediated by special sensors called C tactile fibers, and it conveys information much more slowly. It's vague — in terms of where the touch is happening — but it sends information to a part of the brain called the posterior insula that is crucial for socially-bonding touch. This includes things like a hug from a friend, to the touch you got as a child from your mother, to sexual touch.

    It's not just a different kind of information that's conveyed by the same sensors in the skin that allow you to feel a quarter in your pocket. It's a completely different set of sensors and nerve fibers that wind up in a different part of your brain.

    Touch shapes first impressions of people in weird ways.

    David Linden, a neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins says, "In one of the classic experiments, people were holding either a cold iced drink or a hot drink when meeting someone, and those with a hot drink literally rated the people they met as warmer — as in, having a more pro-social personality. They didn't rate them better overall — say, as smarter, or more competent — they just rated them as warmer.

    It points to an idea that's come up in social psychology again and again: if you're evaluating someone for the first time, the first decision you make is friend or foe. Is this person warm, or are they a threat? Then the second thing you evaluate is whether they're competent — which means that it matters if they're a threat or not. And it seems that touch information helps us make these distinctions, even when it's irrelevant."

    When you’ve had an upsetting experience or are angry and someone tries to hold you, have you noticed that your first reaction is to resist and hold on to your emotion? But if the person continues to hold you, you tend to release the emotion and accept the comfort the person is giving?

    This week, try to be the person giving comfort. See how it can make a difference in your personal world with someone you know. Then remember that we are all one and the comfort you extended may be passed on to someone you don’t know by the first person. Or be bold and Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand) that you don’t know. Our world will be better for any and all of your efforts.