Even before people can hear or see, they can feel touches. For our mental and physical health, the tactile sense, touching plays an important role.
We use glasses to correct poor eyesight and hearing aids to correct poor hearing. Our senses are of crucial importance because they enable us to get an idea of our surroundings.
The facial expression of our conversation partner, the smell of smoke in the house, the sirens of a police car - without our senses we would be defenseless and unprotected.
How about touches?
Emotional meaning of the tactile sense
Other than in a sexual context we do not hear a lot about this overlooked sense. Like all others, it is important. It allows us to recognize a touch. Without it, we could not hold a fork, use a smart phone or change a bulb.
This uses of the tactile sense are very visible. The sense of touching is also of large importance for our emotional and physical well-being.
Eat or cuddle?
In the 50ties Psychologist Harry Harlow (read more on Wikipedia) conducted an experiment with rhesus monkey babies. He left them alone (without parents or a buddy) in a cage.
Later they had to make a decision between two objects. Two "mothers." One consisted of wire and a bottle of milk. The other one did not carry milk but was made from cozy, soft fabric.
What would the monkeys do? Which object would they choose? The vital milk mother or the comfortable mother made from fabric?
The majority of monkey babies decided for the fabric mother. They seemingly considered physical closeness more important than food.
Cold and hugs
People and monkeys are comparable to a limited degree. Experiments with people came to the same conclusion, only even more drastic.
Social isolation equals suffering. The hormone oxytocin is released when people hug. That is (among other things) an anti-stress hormone. Also, the blood pressures sink as well as the amount of fear. Even the subjective perception of pain goes down.
Here is info for germ freaks: A 2014 study by the Carnegie Mellon University suggests that hugs can help to get through winter without or at least without severe colds. More about "a hug a day keeps the flu away in this Time.com article HERE.
Participants of the study have been asked how often they embrace other people. Afterward, the 404 participants have been exposed to a common cold virus. They have been put into quarantine, and the researchers took note of how many of them showed symptoms of a cold.
The participants who hugged other people on a regular basis showed significantly fewer symptoms. And if they got sick the illness was less severe. The theory is that a lower stress level decreases the likelihood of becoming ill.
Grave consequences of loneliness
We are social creates that need contact to others for our happiness. People who were isolated in their youth and childhood have a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases at a younger age compared to other grown-ups.
A study that looked at retirees found that isolation and loneliness are accurate predictors for how long a person is going to live.
There is a connection between depression and loneliness. Isolation seems to encourage depression. Cognitive decline happens faster when people are lonely.
A different study could show the relation between social isolation and Alzheimer.
What if you don´t have someone to hug
Another connection exists between touches and loneliness. But what if you´re single and do not care for hugging your work mates? In the US 124.6 million people over the age of 16 have been single in 2014 (Source: US Census Beaurau).
The good news: Hugs and touches from people you do not have an emotional connection with help too. Massage could be an option, and many people chose pets.
Pets have demonstrably had a similar positive effect on our health like dealing with people.