Physical contact distinguishes humans from other animals. From a warm handshake or sympathetic hug to a congratulatory pat on the back, we have developed complex languages, cultures, and emotional expression through physical contact. But in a tech-saturated world, non-sexual human touch is in danger of becoming rare, if not obsolete. Despite the benefits of digital advancement, it is vital to preserve human touch in order for us truly to thrive.
Humans become nearly unrecognizable in the absence of touch. Two hundred years ago, French scientists spotted a creature resembling a human running through the forests. Once captured, they determined he was 11 years old and had run wild in the forests for much of his childhood. Originally the child, "Victor," was determined to be an idiot; French physicians and psychiatrists eventually concluded he had been deprived of human physical touch, which had retarded his social and developmental capacities.
Scientific research now correlates physical touch with the following important areas:
Research at University of California's School of Public Health found that getting eye contact and a pat on the back from the doctor may boost the survival rate of patients with complex diseases.
As Sharon K. Farber says, “Being touched and touching someone else are fundamental modes of human interaction, and increasingly, many people are seeking out their own professional touchers and body arts teachers—chiropractors, physical therapists, Gestalt therapists, Rolfers, the Alexander-technique and Feldenkrais people, massage therapists, martial arts and T’ai Chi Ch’uan instructors. And some even wait in physicians’ offices for a physical examination for ailments with no organic cause—they wait to be touched.”
In conclusion: Physical touch is the foundational element of human development and culture. The growing preoccupation with digital media versus personal physical contact, combined with the social and legal restrictions over physical contact in our schools and workplaces, may unintentionally affect these factors negatively. To foster a safe social environment in a climate of mediated communication, we should intentionally hold on to physical touch.
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Paladino, M.P., Mazzurega, M., Pavani, F., & Schubert, T. (2010). Synchronous multisensory stimulation blurs self-other boundaries. Psychological Science, 21, 1202-1207
Wilhelm, F. H., Kochar, A. S., Roth, W. T., & Gross, J. J. (2001). Social anxiety and response to touch: Incongruence between self-evaluative and physiological reactions. Biological Psychology, 58, 181-202.