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Touch 

Chapter:
Touch
Author(s):

Alfonso Troisi

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199393404.003.0008
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date: 09 May 2021

This chapter briefly reviews recent empirical research on touch, including the role of touch in early development, emotions that can be conveyed by touch, the importance of touch for interpersonal relationships, and how friendly touch affects compliance in different situations. Physiological and biochemical effects of touch are also reviewed, including decreased heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol, and increased oxytocin. The beneficial effects of touch, including massage therapy, for socioemotional and physical well-being are explained in light of the importance of mother–infant contact in all primate species. To develop normally, primate infants and human babies need much physical contact with their mothers; touch deprivation is one of the most pathogenic condition for a young primate. The second part of the chapter analyzes how cultural evolution has elaborated the natural predisposition toward affiliative touch, creating complex rituals and specific taboos. Finally, the chapter briefly discusses “displacement activities” that consist mostly of movements focused on one’s own body, such as self-touching, scratching, and self-grooming.

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