Why We touch things? Quick question for you: Can you name the basic human senses? Yeah, that’s right: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. You can close your eyes to not see anything. You can hold your nose to stop detecting scents.
But it’s impossible to turn off your sense of touch, and that’s what makes it so ever-present and important in our lives. Your sense of touch is the first sense that develops — before you’re even born. You get it while inside the womb, and it stays with you ‘til your last breath, helping you navigate in the environment and affecting your everyday life in so many ways. You probably think you make decisions based on your free will.
Well, think again! The way a person thinks and makes decisions can be influenced by touching light or heavy objects. This is what researchers from Harvard University and Yale University discovered. During their experiment, people were asked to look through résumés that were stuck to different clipboards and describe the impressions they got about the candidates.
After evaluating them, they rated candidates with résumés on heavy clipboards as more serious than those whose résumé was on a light clipboard. Oh! Now I know why I didn’t get that job! Wrong clipboard! What’s more, your behavior can be influenced by the surface you’re sitting on! In another test, people who sat on hard seats were less open and agreeable during negotiations than those who sat on soft chairs.
There was also an experiment that involved playing with puzzles pieces that were either smooth or had the texture of sandpaper. Those who touched the ragged puzzle pieces rated social interactions as more difficult and harsh than those who handled smooth pieces. All those tests reveal that physical touch has a great impact on our abstract thinking.
Different textures evoke feelings that make us act and perceive the people around us in a particular way. Another interesting experiment confirms this idea, and its results were published in 2008 in Science Journal. Participants held either a cold iced drink or a hot drink while meeting someone. Those with a hot drink reported that the people they met came across as warmer and more friendly.
But our sense of touch not only helps us come to conclusions about our surroundings! It also protects us from danger by letting us feel pain. With free nerve endings acting as receptors on our skin, pain sends information to the brain if there is a real or potential injury to the body. Pain from the skin is transmitted through 2 types of nerve fibers. A-delta fibers deliver sharp, pricking types of pain.
Like after stepping on a LEGO brick. Ouch, I know! C fibers relay dull aches and burning sensations. Pain impulses are sent to the spinal cord where they interact with the special neurons that transmit signals to different areas of the brain. Each neuron responds to a number of different pain stimuli. Pain is carried by many types of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that send info from one cell to another.
Thanks to this fact, it’s possible to develop different types of pain-relieving medications. The way we experience pain can be affected by many factors. Pain tolerance varies from person to person and also depends on the circumstances. If you’re engaged in an activity that demands intense concentration, it can diminish or even eliminate the perception of pain for the duration of the activity.
That’s how athletes achieve amazing sports results even though their bodies get injured during their performance. Your body has one set of skin sensors that lets you know exactly where the pain is and how strong it is. Another system tells you about the negative emotional aspect of the pain. However, some people experience a condition called pain asymbolia.
They are still aware of pain, and they know where it comes from and what part of their body is affected by it. But they just…don’t really care. There is a common test to measure your pain threshold that involves a bucket of ice. You stick your hand in it and then report the level of pain you feel. Most people get their hands out after a pretty short period.
But people with pain asymbolia are so indifferent to the pain they’re exposed to that they don’t feel any urge to avoid it and can keep their hands in the bucket for ages. They lack the system that conveys the negative emotional aspect of the pain and, therefore, don’t consider pain unpleasant. This sounds like some superhuman ability! Are they invincible? No! In fact, these people are in greater danger than those with normal pain tolerance because, even without feeling pain, their bodies still get injuries.
Their skin experienced severe frostbite after the ice bucket test. Sometimes we can acquire a temporary numbness that worsens our sense of touch. This happens when you’re too absorbed in trying to get visual information. Ask any pocket thief, and they will tell you that the best time to steal a wallet is when the target is busy, perhaps reading a newspaper on a crowded train or looking closely for a departure time for a plane at an airport.
This idea is supported by research from Royal Holloway, University of London. It found evidence that looking too hard at something makes you less sensitive to touch. So don’t let your eyes wander, folks! The sense of touch also gets worse as you get older. At age 16 to 18, our touch receptors transmit information to our brain over a short period of time. After that, the process becomes slower and slower.
On the bright side, that can be a good thing because you feel surface pain less acutely. But, unfortunately, it can affect our walking abilities in later life. This is one reason why older people may fall more often — they get less information from the sensations on the bottom of their feet. Remember those C fibers I mentioned before? They’re not only responsible for the distinction of a dull ache!
Those special sensors play an important role in recognizing the social-bonding touch when you get a hug from a friend or the soothing touch of your mother when you were a kid. Actually, the earlier a baby gets their first touch experience with their mother (or primary caregiver), the better. Babies who were deprived of this because of adverse circumstances had weakened immune systems and cognitive problems while developing.
Also, they experienced different psychological problems during their childhood and later on in life. That’s why when a baby is born much earlier than the estimated due date and put in an isolator, doctors allow the parents to take them out for a few hours so they can press the baby against their skin. When isolators were first invented, it was believed that it was better to leave babies alone in there to avoid the risk of infections.
But it turned out that infections are not as harmful as a lack of skin-to-skin contact with the parents. Even when you grow up, it’s still important to have interaction with others through physical sensation. This can even have a healing effect. Research conducted at the University of North Carolina proved that women who got more hugs from their partners had lower blood pressure and heart rates.
Moreover, the more tactile sensations we receive from others, the more successful we are. Researchers studied NBA players and came to the conclusion that teams in which members engaged more often in high fives, high tens, chest punches, and team huddles performed better than those who had less practice in these kinds of interactions. I guess that makes it OK to give your coworkers surprise hugs! Just make sure they don’t mind!
Unfortunately, with the rapid development of technology, people have fewer chances for physical contact with others. They communicate with their friends via messaging apps more often than face-to-face. And those who have freelance jobs usually don’t keep in touch with their coworkers. Deprivation of human touch can lead to many problems, including depression and anxiety.
Well, if you feel way too lonely and in need of a hug, you can always turn to a professional cuddler! Yeah, that’s a real job, and people get paid for it! Professional cuddlers see their work as a form of therapy that helps lonely people feel accepted, appreciated, and more comfortable in this cold, modern world.
When was the last time you hugged someone? Sound off in the comments below! Don’t forget to rate “Why We Touch Things” and share it with your friends.
Credit: Bright Side