Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Healing Power of Touch: New Scientific Insights

A new study presents novel insights on the mental health benefits of touch.

Key points

  • Touch is one of the earliest senses to develop.
  • There is limited psychological research on the health benefits of touch.
  • A new meta-analysis integrated studies on touch and mental and physical well-being.

Touch is one of the first senses that develops in humans. Long before children can talk and understand language, their parents cradle them to make them feel better when they are stressed. This stress-relieving power of consensual touch persists throughout life for most people. Before a stressful job interview or test, a hug from a loved one can help us calm down. After a challenging day at work, a nice massage provides much-needed relaxation.

Despite these benefits of touch for psychological well-being, touch is not a major topic in psychological research. While several studies on the benefits of touch for mental and physical well-being have been published, their methods are very diverse, and different groups of people have been compared, making it difficult to draw overarching conclusions from them.

A new meta-analysis on touch and well-being

To provide a systematic integration of published studies on touch and mental and physical well-being, Julian Packheiser from the Social Neuroscience lab at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany and his research team conducted a so-called meta-analysis (Packheiser and co-workers, 2024). A meta-analysis is a statistical integration of existing studies that has the benefit that much larger samples are used to generate the statistics, which makes the results of such a study more trustworthy and robust than that of smaller studies.

Overall, the scientists integrated data from 137 different studies. Additionally, they reported on 75 studies in a literature review that could not be integrated mathematically. Overall, data from almost 13,000 volunteers were included in the study, making its insights highly trustworthy.

Touch has many positive effects on health and psychological well-being

The study by Packheiser and co-workers had many interesting insights on the benefits of touch:

  • For both newborns and adults, touch interventions significantly improved physical and mental well-being.
  • For babies, it was found that touch interventions such as kangaroo care were especially effective in regulating the stress hormone cortisol, but were also helpful for various other factors such as temperature regulation, respiration, and even liver function.
  • For adults, touch interventions such as hugging or massages were significantly beneficial in reducing feelings of depression and anxiety and also relieved physical pain. Interestingly, these effects were even stronger in different groups of patients than in healthy volunteers. The scientists also investigated whether touch interventions by robots are similarly effective to those by real people. It was found that robot massages have similar positive effects on physical well-being (e.g., pain relief) but were less effective for mental health. Also, positive effects of touch were found both for familiar people (e.g., getting hugged by a friend) and health care professionals (e.g., getting a massage by a licensed massage therapist).

Taken together, these findings show that touch interventions have clear benefits for both physical and mental well-being. So the next time when you feel a bit under the weather, maybe try hugging a friend—after all, it is scientifically proven that it should make you feel better.


Packheiser, J., Hartmann, H., Fredriksen, K., Gazzola, V., Keysers, C., & Michon, F. (2024). A systematic review and multivariate meta-analysis of the physical and mental health benefits of touch interventions. Nature human behaviour, 10.1038/s41562-024-01841-8.

More from Sebastian Ocklenburg, Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today