The science of touch: why this meaning is necessary

Amy Prestwood was not able to be present with her husband during these sessions. They weren’t able to get together until that September afternoon when he used an experimental prosthesis on his shoulder.

Brandon keeps a video recording of what happened on his phone. We see two people facing each other in a large room, hesitant and clumsy. Brandon
He looks at his feet, then at his prosthetic toes and smiles. With his right arm safe, he points to Amy on his left, as if to say: Come here.

The publications on the sense of touch are rich in new scientific data, and great guesses and suggestions for the future. But there are four seconds in this video that I want to describe. As Amy wraps her fingers around Brandon’s prosthesis, he shakes his head, his eyes widen, and his mouth droops. Amy watches him, but Brandon is staring straight ahead, not seeing anything. ” I can Feel, He said to me. I felt something. I was touching her. I cried. I think she was crying too. »

In fact, she was crying. The day the video was shown to me, we were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone seemed to be trying to figure out how to approach the others, how to touch each other, with the distance closing.

You probably remember pictures of people kissing “in pandemic mode” – through shower curtains, or hanging plastic sheets. National Geographical I posted a particularly impressive one. Separated by a transparent film hanging from a clothesline, a woman and her daughter embrace for the first time in months. I know the feeling: My daughter improvises something similar, after a season of backyard dating, and I still remember the sweetness of that hug. Through a barrier, yes. Curly, slippery, plasticized. cheap hug But my “need,” Francis McGlone, a neuroscientist at John Moores University, Liverpool, UK, told me, was too strong for me to notice. “It’s like a vitamin deficiency.” You need to recharge. »

Neurologists and psychologists now have biomarkers to explain what seems counterintuitive to many of us — that most humans need the physical presence, and the touch of others, to stay healthy. On the topic, read this:

“Touch is an essential aspect of social interaction, and it is a basic human need. […] The social touch calms the recipient during stressful times […]By reducing levels of stress hormones, […] Stimulates the release of oxytocin, a neuropeptide synthesized in the hypothalamus. […] High levels of oxytocin are associated with increased confidence, cooperative behavior, engagement with strangers, more effective reading of others’ feelings, and constructive conflict resolution. »

These few lines are from a federal lawsuit against solitary confinement. Lawyers who filed a lawsuit a decade ago on behalf of inmates at a California high-security prison argued that years of practicing solitary confinement amounted to an unconstitutional sentence because it was cruel, inhuman or degrading. An expert report by Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he teaches and oversees research on the science of touch, is now an integral part of the file. “It is our oldest language, and arguably the primary language that governs our social relations,” Lee explained.

He meant here the first language that emerged during evolution. We humans may have used ‘tactile contact’ before we started understanding language. And on an individual level, we start with: We now know that touch is the first sensation a fetus perceives. At birth and during the first months of life, this is one of the most important and most developed senses of an infant.

One of the most influential and disturbing psychology studies of touch involved children, although in this case they were lab monkeys. In the late 1950s, a team at the University of Wisconsin led by psychologist Harry Harlow removed newborn macaques from their mothers and isolated them in cages with two fuzzy monkey surrogates. One was made of bare wire, and the other was covered with a terry cloth. In one experiment, only the wire was a substitute for the dispensed milk. The children learned to feed themselves, but as soon as they finished drinking—and each time the scientists presented them with a horrible, head-bobbing mechanical monster—they would rush to their fake tissue mother, clutching the rags.

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