As human beings, we crave physical contact. In fact, our species requires it to thrive. The connections we make through platonic touch have been foundational in building human civilization as we know it. Unfortunately, as our society has advanced, the prevalence of physical touch has lessened.
Touch between adults in the modern world has all but disappeared, with the exception of sexuality.
Platonic touch is an important way to bond and communicate – so why is our culture forgetting about this vital form of contact?
Here are four reasons we need to become more touchy-feely:
1. Frequent physical touch increases a person’s physical wellbeing.
A hug doesn’t only feel good – it’s good for you. Regular hugs can lower a person’s heart rate and blood pressure. This effect is not just a momentary boost – the body actually becomes healthier long-term. Loving platonic touch such as hugging has also been shown to strengthen the immune system, decrease stress, and reduce anxiety. “Being hugged by a trusted person may act as an effective means of conveying support and increasing the frequency of hugs might be an effective means of reducing the deleterious effects of stress,” said Sheldon Cohen, a Carnegie Mellon University Professor of Psychology. “The apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioral indicator of support and intimacy. Either way, those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection.”
2. Physical contact strengthens team dynamics by building non-sexual intimacy.
When we touch someone appropriately – with a handshake, a high-five, or a pat on the back – we are sending them a non-verbal message of cooperation. The effects of this are not only personal, but economic. Daniel Keltner, the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and Professor of Psychology at University of California – Berkeley, studied the role of touch in the context of NBA basketball teams. His research found that teams whose players touch each other more often win more games. Could the same be true for the accounting team in your workplace, or the PTA at your child’s school?
3. Physical touch promotes trust and security.
As humans, we are conditioned to bond with one another in a physical way. This is why many people determine someone’s trustworthiness by the quality of their handshake. Ray Williams explored this in his article for Psychology Today titled Why Have We Lost The Need For Physical Touch?. As he explains, “Neuroscientist Edmund Ross [found] that physical touch activates the brain’s orbitfrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. [Daniel] Keltner contends that ‘studies show that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassion response and a simple touch can trigger release of oxytocin, aka ‘the love hormone.'”
4. People who experience lots of physical contact are less violent.
It has been scientifically proven that children who do not experience enough loving physical affection are more prone to violence once they reach adulthood. Neuropsychologist James W. Prescott determined that violence in society often correlates with a lack of cultural emphasis on maternal bonding. When a child experiences loving touch, they learn to attach to others in a healthy way. As they grow, they are less likely to use touch in a hurtful or aggressive way. This early touch paves the way for emotional stability. The results are not only personal, but societal.
Our lack of non-sexual physical touch is a greater cultural problem than we realize.
Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch. “This touch thing is so crucial,” he wrote. “I kiss and hug my son constantly. He sits with me and on me. I make a point of connecting with him physically whenever I greet him. The physical connection I have with him has been transformative in my life teaching me about my value as a human being and a father.”