The Magic Of Touch


I would like to share with you my latest experience…and you are probably going to laugh thinking that once again I prove to be a dinosaur.

Dating on line is not a rage any longer. It is a “normal” practice among millions of users. I wanted to experience the buzz so I could relate to those of my patients belonging to the category of “millions of users”.

I did experience the thrill of generating interest, the fun of unrestrained written exchanges and the adrenalin of exchanging contact numbers followed by, sometimes, phone conversations but rarely, so rarely, the ultimate goal of actually meeting the person, I mean the real person in flesh.

Rapidly, then, I would push to actually meet the person. I became that needy, what-do-you-want-go-to-the-point lioness who, when face-to-face with the person did not know how to convey friendliness without compromising myself ah ah. By the way, the feeling was largely reciprocal. What an experience indeed!

I started then to reflect on the advantages of “cyber” friendship versus actual human contacts and I came to the conclusion that words do not replace touch. Touching is magical. Touching convey far better, faster, stronger feelings than words. Actually, according to research, the impact of touch is 10 times superior to that of words. Positive touch reduces stress and, therefore, reinforces well-being. It creates bounds between people, trust, cooperation, empathy and gratitude. Touch is an essential tool to social communication.

Interestingly, there are scientific reasons to prove, if needed be, that the human brain is designed to understand touch on multiple levels. Our body is a gigantic receptive machine with 18,000 square centimeters of skin equipped with specialized sensory receptors to transfer information to our brain through our neural pathway. Some sensory receptors send information about pressure on the skin, temperature, movement, position, strength, etc. Others specialize in emotional input such as caress and send erotic messages to our brain when making love.

We have two brain areas in charge of sorting out these signals: the somatosensory cortex and the insula cortex. The first one deals with the fast messages sent by the sensory receptors of our hands, fingers, face and tongue. The second one, on the contrary, receives the slower emotional signals which allow for the insula to determinate with accuracy the speed of a physical contact. These signals come from our behind, thighs, back, shoulders, forearms, and scalp (that’s why we so appreciate scalp massages). By measuring the speed of a physical contact, the brain “knows” the meaning and the social and emotional intention of a physical contact. Pretty cool isn’t? So in essence, our brain is collecting information through our skin and tells us what to think about the kind of touch we receive. No room for playing games, my friends, not like with words!

That does not mean that I now have the go-ahead to jump on my next date! Indeed, many factors play a role in the time, place and ways to experiment with touching. Culture of course is the major factor, but also nationality, context, gender, sensitivity and the expectations of the person. We usually send behavioral signals indicating what is acceptable and what is not. It is important to learn to read human behavior so as to avoid awkward if not irreparable situations. We also need to remember that our needs are directly linked to our early childhood which does not make it right neither essential. It just means that we are different. Men often kiss each other on both cheeks in France when they are friends. I am not sure that I ever witnessed such behavior in America. It would be kind of weird, wouldn’t? What is most important to remember, however, is the importance and the positive impact that touch generates in our daily life. Let us encourage each other to more conviviality and human contact “live”!