I recently heard Neil Diamond’s song "Sweet Caroline" and was inspired to write about touch. Love that song and must have listened to it at least a thousand times since it first came out in 1969. (On a personal note, at least one of those times was during a make-out session behind my parent’s house.) The part that is most moving in the song is when Neil sings about hands touching hands. Touch between two consenting adults is so romantic. In fact, while I am writing this, I feel like playing the song and lighting a scented candle. But, let me pull out of the mood, as I am approaching this from a health perspective and not my own personal romance needs.
In that spirit, I will ask the question: How healthy is touch when it is between a parent and child, or two caring individuals –- VERY HEALTHY and quite important.
Credit Image: evil nickname on Flickr
HUG YOUR CHILD OFTEN
Way back when while taking Psychology 101 in college, I read about a study focusing on a baby monkey and how it was willing to cuddle with a wire monkey covered in lambs skin, just to have a physical connection when its real mother wasn’t present. Today, in newborn intensive care units, parents are encouraged to hold their very tiny offspring, as it has been shown time and time again that improvement in vital signs happens when that occurs. It also lowers the stress level of the parents when they make skin-to-skin contact with their infant. It is noted in a May 6, 2010 article in Scientific American titled "How Important is Physical Contact With Your Infant," that children who lived in deprived surroundings like orphanages had different hormone levels then children who lived with their parents. The levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, were higher in kids who had lived in orphanages. This assumes that the children in orphanages didn’t have the physical contact that children living with parents had experienced. It was noted in a Feb. 10, 2011, article in ScienceDaily titled "Behavior Problems linked to Cortisol Levels: Study Finds that Intervention Needed as Soon as Behavioral Problems Appear." There you have it, a key reason to hug your child often for just about any reason or no reason at all.
TOUCHING EMOTIONALLY CONNECTS US
In an article that appeared in the February 22, 2010 New York Times titled, "Evidence That Little Touches Do Mean So Much, Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, states that touch is the first language that we learn and that it remains, “our richest means of emotional expression” all through our life. There were some interesting pieces of evidence that found that students who received supportive touching on the back or arm from their teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class then students who didn’t. Also to note: patients who received a sympathetic touch from their physician were left with the impression that their visit was twice as long then people who were not touched. Lastly in the article was an excerpt from the journal, Emotion, which noted that the touchiest basketball teams were better teams and more bonded then teams that weren’t that way. It was mentioned that the Boston Celtics and LA Lakers with two of the most touchiest teams and the best in 2010.
THE CALMING EFFECTS OF TOUCH
While researching this post, I found the Touch Research Institute, started in 1992 and located at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine. Yep, a whole institute dedicated to touch. In the abstract section of its website, I found a study on aggression: Diego, M.A., Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Shaw, J.A., Rothe, E.M., Castellanos, D. & Mesner, L. (2002). Aggressive adolescents benefit from massage therapy. Adolescence, 37, 597-607. In the study, seventeen adolescents participated in the study. It was noted that the massaged teens had lower anxiety and reported feeling less hostile. Their parents perceived them as being less aggressive, too.
While this is a small study, it makes the point again about touch, in this case therapeutic touch, and its impact on behavior. When my daughter was growing up, I massaged her back to get her to relax and go to sleep. It always worked. Now I give back massages to my grandkids, my cat and my surly dog, Max. In fact, when Max had kennel cough (kind of like the doggy version of whooping cough), I massaged his back every time he began a hard cough. It seemed to relax him and minimize his respiratory gasps.
DIFFERENT CATEGORIES OF TOUCH
In the March 12, 2012 edition of Psychology Today, Dr. Jeremy Nicholson published an article on "How to Start (or Restart) Your Sex Life with Touch." Within the article is a differentiation of the different kinds of touch, developed by Richard Heslin in 1974. However, they still seem relevant to how I understand touch (along with an ElaineR.N. addition). The five kinds mentioned are: Functional/Professional; Social/Polite; Friendship/Warmth; Love/Intimacy and Sexual/Arousal. If Heslin is listening, I would have added family or parent/child hugs and love, as number six. By the way, there is a Journal of Nonverbal Behavior that has published numerous articles on touch, from romantic touch to relationship touch and touch in a public setting.
MAKE THE WORLD RIGHT: HUG A FRIEND, A LOVED ONE, OR BOTH
Realize that I could go on and on about touch and how it can positively impact our lives. But I don’t want this post to be an academic review of the literature on touch, just wanted to make the point using research-based findings from experts. Mostly though, I want to remind us all about the importance of touching someone you care about and offering a hug up every once in a while or more. No doubt a hug would benefit the hugger as well as the hugee. So to those Democrats reading: Hug a Republican and to you Republicans, hug back!
Sweet Caroline lyrics by Neil Diamond.
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