“Besides love at first sight, there is also love at first touch. And maybe it goes even deeper,” at least that’s what Vladimir Nabokov once said. That touch is special, we know. It can cause goose bumps and have a magical effect on us, especially when it comes from our loved ones. But can touch also have a healing effect on us? And is touch even vital for our survival? Dr. Böhme examines touch and physical closeness in Sweden and was able to tell us more about it.
Why are you researching the field: Touch & Physical Interaction?
Interpersonal contact is incredibly important for us, from early childhood to old age. But unfortunately the area of touch is mostly dismissed as secondary, both in society and in research. For example, we know very little about how people with psychiatric problems perceive and process touch. But that is very important, I think.
Why is physical closeness so important to us? What happens in the body?
Man is a contact being. From an evolutionary biological point of view, because our herd was vital for our survival: we needed the proximity of others for warmth, at the same time it was a sign of safety. In addition, touching strengthens our relationships, because touching our loved ones releases oxytocin, the so-called binding hormone. If we regularly experience loving closeness, we are also less stressed – this can even be proven by lower amounts of the stress hormone cortisol in the body.
Have we forgotten how to touch ourselves correctly in everyday life?
This is certainly different from person to person, and also depends strongly on the situation in which we find ourselves. But in general I would say that we touch each other too little. Usually these touches are also formal, like a handshake or a hug as a greeting. Really warm, loving and spontaneous touches are unfortunately rather rare. Most likely still in our partnership relationships and in dealing with our children. However, they should also find their place in other relationships, in friendships and in the wider family circle.
What is the secret of a perfect touch?
From a purely scientific point of view: our touch receptors react best to contact with approx. 32 degrees Celsius and a speed of 3-8 cm per second. But we don’t have to train that, we can do it purely intuitively. In practice, of course, there is much more to it: it plays a role who touches us, in what environment we find ourselves – and also in what mood we are. Sometimes we just don’t want to be touched, even by our favourite person. And last but not least we all have different preferences: Some like to be hugged, others love a foot massage, others like to be gently stroked. This secret of the perfect touch has to be found out by everyone for themselves.
Can it be any touch?
There is one study that shows that gentle stroking has effects that do not trigger tickling, for example. That doesn’t mean that tickling doesn’t make sense, that is, playing and having fun together. It is particularly important that both the touching and the touched person are positively turned towards each other and open, that both want and enjoy the touch.
Why do loving words trigger less in us than a short touch?
Spoken words must first be processed in detail in the brain before we have even interpreted the sounds and understood their meaning. In addition, words are often ambiguous and can be interpreted and interpreted differently. Touching does not have to take this long detour via cognition. Of course, we often think long after the fact about what a certain touch may have meant. But the moment the touch happens, it first has a direct emotional effect on us. Everyone knows this especially from more or less accidental touches by a person with whom we are in love. We immediately feel the tickle in our stomach – we then ponder the meaning of touch for a long time.
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Masha is the founder of Literaa Poetry and the better half of Pedro.
She likes to write columns and lifestyle topics and takes care of the editorial staff. Read more about Masha here.