The Power Of Human Touch
Written by Dr. Alyssa Puorro
The power of touch goes so deep, and sadly it is missing by a lot of people in our constantly
changing world. I love hugs. I love it even better when the person sharing has the same
intention. We all know that feeling of hugging someone who is equivalent to embracing a brick
wall, but it can be as simple as a light touch to provide support, comfort, and release of happy
Human touch is so innately engrained in us that there are receptors for this specific type of
touch (those that come from another human), covering almost the entirety of our skin,
excluding only palms of hands and soles of feet.
These specialized nerve fibers respond to feeling three things: light touch, slow paced
movement, and temperature of 89 degrees, which is equal to that of human skin temperature.
As explained by brain researcher Helena Wasling, “They are programmed to be most responsive
to a gentle caress from another person.” It is no coincidence that these traits correlate directly to
that of human touch. We are wired to interact with other humans and touch is required for
forming connections with one another.
All conscious touch is processed in the brain, in the same areas that emotion and social behavior
live. These nerve fibers in the skin alert our brain to how we feel, triggering an emotional, social,
or physical response, contributing to pain and stress relief, and to our feelings of wellbeing. This
explains how we are able to hold in our emotions, until embraced by a hug — this represents
safety, security and trust and allows for release of emotions, according to Wasling.
Skin to skin connection is essential to forming bonds and contributes to greater outcomes in
premature infants. The method of placing newborn infants, in diaper only, on bare chest of mom
or dad, known as “kangaroo care,” has been show to improve oxygenation, stabilize heart rate
and positively influence brain development. Mom’s breasts can also serve to alter temperature
to meet the baby’s needs — mom’s skin temperature will increase if baby is cool and decrease if
baby is warm.
According to several studies, “A reassuring pat on the back or a warm embrace elicits the
recipient the release of oxytocin, a neurochemical that promotes trust and cooperation. A soft
touch to the arm elicits activation of the orbitofrontal cortex, a region of your frontal lobes that
signals expected rewards of an action.” In this stressed out world, know that a loving touch to
another will actually relax their neurophysiology response to stress. This simple task can
completely change the day for someone!