Touch – the ability to feel and connect through the skin – has been called ‘The mother of all the senses’. It is, according to Ashley Montagu, “the foundation upon which all other senses are based”.
Touching produces emotion, but its necessity for human wellbeing goes much deeper, for it activates the nervous system and development at a cellular level. In other words we have a biological need to be touched, and without it we wither.
Babies that are deprived of human contact fail to thrive and many die (as tragically shown in neo-natal units and orphanages that had a policy of no touching in a misguided attempt to prevent contagion). Experiments with young mammals have confirmed that presence and contact with the mother is essential for orderly and healthy growth.
The essential point here is that touch between humans is not a ‘nice to have’, it is an absolute necessity for wellbeing, balance and development. It doesn’t just make us feel, it also helps regulate the parasympathetic nervous system (which promotes healthy cardiac rhythms and resistance to stress and depression, among other things).
This vital need is life-long, it doesn’t fade away when we leave childhood; adults need cuddling too.
Montagu, A., (1986) 3rd Ed, Touching; The Human Significance of the Skin, Harper & Row Publishers, New York.
Servan-Schreiber, D., (2005), Healing Without Freud or Prozac; Natural Approaches to Curing Stress, Anxiety and Depression, Rodale, London.