A scientist took infant orphans and separated them into two groups. Both groups received the same nourishment, timely diaper changes, warmth, toys and stimulating objects and medical care. The Soviet scientist did only one thing different with the first group; he added a 12 year old girl who adored babies.
The girl would cuddle with her group of infants and sing them to sleep. She would play with them and talk to them all day.
The other group did of course experience touch when fed and changed, but that was it. It was methodical, clinical, and just long enough to bring the task to completion.
The findings were quite profound. The babies who were raised with cuddles and touch developed faster than the other group- they crawled and walked and spoke weeks sooner than the untouched group of children. Their immunity was far stronger, too, so they experienced less and sometimes no colds, ear infections, and other infectious childhood maladies.
They grew larger and stronger, whereas the other group was thinner, weighed less, and more frail.
These babies were adopted faster. They were happy and brought joy to the visitors.
The other babies didn't smile.
Human Touch is the Ultimate Mind/Body Cure
Human touch is important. It is comforting, and can say much more than words can express. It lowers blood pressure and releases the body's pain relieving chemicals. It raises the immune system, leaving us less likely to be affected by passing viruses and bugs.
When I was in High School, I was turned on to the phrase 8 Hugs a Day Keeps the Doctor Away. I haven't found a single argument against that theory yet.
A simple hug releases anxiety. I believe this is the reason for the sharp increase in anxiety diagnosis today. People are spending more time communicating via screens and less in personal contact. A "virtual" hug does nothing for the release of the body's natural feel good hormones.
A few years ago the massage industry took off and researchers grew interested. They measured the immune function in healthy adults before and after a 45 minute massage vs a group who meditated alone for the same amount of time. The adults in the massaged group had significantly more white blood cells and killer cells- which are responsible for fighting viruses and pathogens, than the group who relaxed alone, and over time had fewer inflammatory cytokines associated with diseases.
It's important to realize skin is the body's largest organ. There are 100 trillion neural connections from your skin to your brain! That's 1000 times the number of stars in our galaxy! There are about 2 billion nerve endings in the outermost layer of our skin. When you are touched, the signal travels at 268 MPH along the alpha neuron in the spine- the fastest transmission in the human body.
When you are touched, the pressure receptors at the point of contact, called Pacinian Corpusles, send signals directly to the Vagus Nerve- an important nerve bundle deep in the brain referred to as "The Wanderer" because it has branches that wander through the body to several organs including the heart. It's the Vagus Nerve that slows the heart and lowers blood pressure.
Studies in which subjects were made to perform something stressful like an exam or public speaking with a friend who held their hand or placed a comforting touch on their arm performed better, and had lower recorded heart rates and blood pressure, suggesting the simple act of being touched during the even made it less stressful.
This is why we instinctively put our arms around someone when they are experiencing a traumatic event. Our instincts know our simple touch will help them through this a little bit.
Not only does hugging and holding reduce Cortisol- the body's stress hormone, touch prompts the body to produce oxytocin, aka "the cuddle" hormone, which affects trust.
Oxytocin is a neuropeptide which promotes feelings of trust, devotion, and bonding. It is why you are drawn to cuddling your intimate partner- the "cuddling hormone" makes you feel closer and actually bonds you two together for a future.
The Orbital Frontal Cortex (OFC) area in the brain becomes highly activated in response to a friendly touch. Located just above the eyes, it's the same area of the brain that responds to pleasant scents and sweets. The OFC lights up from just a small touch on the arm, meaning touch is a very powerful rewarding stimulus. The subsequent release of oxytocin makes you feel connected and more trusting, and the surge of electrical impulses lower your blood pressure and slow your heart which makes you feel more relaxed and less stressed.
This intricate and complex series of events that takes over your body and brain and changes your health and life is amazingly initiated by a seemingly simple supportive touch.
Images via Free Hugs Campaign Looney Tunes, Pixabay, Pexels and Creative Commons.
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