Out of Touch: How Touching Affects Our Mood And Why We Gave It Up

What was the last time you placed your hand on your friend’s shoulder? Or a shoulder of a stranger? Do you ever touch anyone besides yourself? Our modern world is surprisingly touch-deprived: most western people are afraid of touching and being touched, and myriads of cases of legal action, which followed a handshake that had nothing evil behind it, spark debates.

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The outlook for tomorrow is as touchless as ever. Look at children – at an airport, playground, or your own room – and you will probably see another creature hunched over a tablet. The only things they touch are touch screens. They do not play the way kids used to play for centuries – instead, they cling to devices that open the gates to social networks, online games, and never-ending senseless cartoons. They are all there, in the virtual world, paying no attention to what is going on around them. For this digital generation, a stranger is that guy with a weird userpic, not someone you can see with your own two eyes and touch.

It is more than a national disaster – the problem has outgrown the definition and reached the scale of a global epidemic.

An issue touching a raw nerve

While human touches are being edged out by touch screens, few realize how important it is to stay in touch with this age-old practice. The sense of touch is one of the first things a person obtains – even a tiny embryo already possesses it. Researchers report that touching is crucial to proper development and stress management. According to scientists from University College London, there is an association between social bonding and gentle touch: experiencing a gentle touch of another person can help alleviate social exclusion.

Touching has a sophisticated system behind it: every kind of pressure the skin experiences is processed by a separate type of nerve endings. Texture, vibration, gentle stroke – sense of touch is not a single one. Cuddling is something that is natural to humans; we are born with this need, and if a child is deprived of being touched, it can have serious adverse effects. Studies in monkeys showed that those infants that were not touched by their mothers would stay away from the group and prefer to sit in a cage corner, looking at nothing.

According to Tiffany Field from Miami Medical School, touching can slow down heart rate and reduce the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, as well as lower blood pressure.

Losing our touch

Touching – hugging, stroking, cuddling and the like – helps manage stress by reducing cortisol levels. If it does not happen, people become more aggressive – just the thing we see in modern children (and not only children). With these findings in mind, many companies started manufacturing a wide range of items designed to mimic human touching: from pillows and chairs with arms to weighted blankets to touching cafes, there are a lot of options for the lonely, though the very concept of such products is horrifying. Who could have thought people would have to purchase hugs?

This is not to say that embracing every single person you see is a way out. The message here is that normal human relationships do not define touching as harassment; conversely, it is something of a means of communication, and the very process of human development benefits from it. One of the questions that the issue poses is when and why we lost it – the practice of touching, the culture of touching? Is it the flourishing narcissism of our modern society that is to blame, or it is something else that forces many an American regard touch as harassment?

There is more to it than meets the eye: the problem is too complex to solely blame digitalization. It could be the key culprit, but it is up to us to change it. Get out of the social network swamp. Realize wealth is not the cornerstone of life. Look around, breathe and see other people – they may still be there, and they may be hankering for a hug.

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