Tag Archives: senses

Is Touch a Key Point of Human Social Development?

I am an extremely touchy person—my friends actually scold me from time to time because I don’t acknowledge the concept of “personal space”. I enjoy being in close contact to people and expressing my emotions through lots of physical movement, but that’s because I grew up in an environment that encouraged me to do so. Throughout my lifetime, I have come in contact with people who do not like being touched or in close contact with other people, and overall they seem to be more reserved in their expression and overall introverts. Despite my overwhelming nature, I have been able to befriend some of these people and they have told me that they never received much physical touch when they were growing up. So what I wanted to know was if there was a relationship between he amount of touch we received when we were younger and our overall social development.

According to Psychology Today, researchers in the United Kingdom released a study in October 2013 that confirms the importance of human touch to healthy brain development. They found that “a loving touch, characterized by a slow caress or gentle stroking increases the brain’s ability to construct a sense of body ownership and plays a big part in creating and sustaining a healthy sense of self.” However, the parameters of the study were not made available on the website, so I cannot be completely sure of the findings. The study conducted would most likely be either observational study or a survey and done over a time period of several months to a few years because nature of the data they are gathering. If it was an observational study that was conducted, the control group would have to be children that were born and then immediately given over to an adoption agency or foster home, an environment where there is little to no intimate human contact. Also, I would be interested to know what was the age range of children observed because there is probably a critical window of development where touch provides the most change.

So there is some evidence that touch helps brain development, but I wanted to find a randomized experiment that actually tested the relationship between levels of physical stimulation during early developmental stages and social disposition. One of the earliest studies on the benefits of touch was conducted in the 1920s by researcher Fredrick Hammett on rats. He reported that rats that were infrequently handled were more timid, apprehensive and high strung than the rats that had been “pet gently.” For the developing rat pup, mothers and litter-mates are the major sources of sensory input. A useful approach to evaluating the importance of this input is to remove it completely and observe what happens. Another experiment was conducted by comparing the adult behavior of maternally reared rats with those isolated in plastic cups, from postnatal days 4 to 20. Despite receiving comparable nutritional input, the pups raised in cups weighed less at weaning. Although this difference did not persist into adulthood, early deprivation did affect adult maternal and emotional behavior. Compared with maternally reared controls, isolate-reared rats were less attentive to their own offspring, performing fewer pup retrievals and spending less time licking and crouching over pups and spending more time digging, biting the cage, hanging from the top of the cage, eating and tail chasing. These behaviors suggest that the lack of early stimulation can potentially affect behavioral patterns regarding social interactions. Of course, correlation does not mean causation and reverse causality could be a potential option as well (the rats were socially mean which caused them to receive less touch), but the experiment seemed to be done well so I highly doubt it.

But then is there any hope for those who didn’t receive much contact as they were growing up? There was a second part to the study that took the rats that were the pups in cups were stroked with a warm wet paintbrush to simulate maternal licking. The minimally stimulated pups received 45 seconds of stroking twice a day to promote urination and defecation. The maximally stimulated pups received 2 min of full-body stroking five times per day. When the pups were studied as adults and the way they mothered their own offspring was examined, it was found that full-body stroking partially rescued the behavioral deficits of isolation, with the maximally stimulated pups exhibiting maternal behaviors of durations intermediate to those of the maternally reared and minimally stimulated pups. Thus, tactile stimulation can ameliorate some of the deficits resulting from isolate rearing in rats.

So there is some home for my introverted friends after all. They probably won’t see much benefit in it since they have survived this long, but that won’t restrain me from smothering them with love from now on.






Do Our Senses Make Sense?

We are already finished our second week of fall semester and I can already feel the physical, mental, and emotional drain from the stress and pressure of classes. I don’t want to be mistaken, I am super excited to be back and working, however, I cannot help but feel—like physically feel—how these external forces are affecting me. When I look at my schedule and see how many assignments are due within the next week, I can literally feel the weight of stress on my shoulders as if it was compressing me. Also, no matter what the weather is like—hot or cold—I feel much more relaxed and at peace when I have a hot cup of coffee in my hand.


So naturally I questioned, “Can my senses be affected by external forces—that I am either aware of or not—that can in turn change my perspective?” I was searching online if this was a possible explanation for my physically responses and found a book called Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence by Professor Thalma Lobel that explores how colors, tactile sensations, scents, tastes, and visual perspectives significantly influence us, without us even realizing. So, in short, the answer to my question was yes, but my curiosity was peaked and I wanted to see what other things were affecting my perspective and even my decision making process.


Personally, I think I am most in tune with my sense of touch and sight—I have always been told I was touchy and I thoroughly enjoy the visual stimulation of art and color—so I decided to look through those chapters.


Researchers set up an experiment with two groups of participants and asked them to rate a fictional person presented to them as skillful, intelligent, determined, practical, industrious, and cautious on several other characteristics. However, right before the participant answered, the researchers asked for them to hold their cup of coffee for a moment while the researcher made a quick note—half were handed a warm cup of coffee and the other half an iced coffee. They found that participants described the fictional person similar to the drink that they were asked to hold. So those holding the hot cup of coffee said that the personal also seemed caring and generous (an overall warm personality), while those holding the cold cup said the person seemed selfish and antisocial (a generally cold personality). The only manipulated variable was the temperature of the cup they were holding. That warm sensation of touch relaxes us and makes us feel at ease, so when we meet new people—or even old friends—we see them as friendlier and more pleasant to around. With that in mind, I now try to tackle any situation that I feel might present some sort of distaste with a warm cup of tea in my hand.


The portion regarding color perception was framed around sexual attraction and if certain colors made someone more attractive. I always believed that someone could look nicer if they were wearing a color that suited them based on their skin tone or hair color, but I was skeptical about whether or not just the color could enhance attraction. In their study, men were shown pictures of the exact same woman, but in different color blouses (red, green, blue, and grey).  Consistently, the men rated the picture of the woman in the red blouse as sexier and more attractive. They also reported that they would most likely spend more money on the woman wearing red if they went on a date. The key point to note though is that the woman wasn’t perceived to be more intelligent or kind, just more alluring. Taking mote of little things like that could be vital to quick yet highly selective interactions, such as dating or interviewing.


I did not want to dive deeply into the other senses mostly because I like the mystery of not knowing how things may or may not be influencing me—alsoI might look into them for a later blog. But for now, knowing what is directly influencing my senses will allow me to better manage my stress and workload…At least for the time being.


Winch, Guy. “How Mastering All 5 Sense Can Get You What You Want.” Psychology Today, 1 May 2014. Web. 3 September 2014. < http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201405/how-mastering-all-5-senses-can-get-you-what-you-want>


Lobel, Thalma. The New Science of Physical Intelligence. Atria Books, 2014. Print