According to Texas psychology professor David R. Cross, PhD, … the ill effects of non-touching
are simply not that obvious and don’t receive much attention. While there is scientific research
showing non-touch is detrimental to health, none of these effects grab headlines, sound alarms,
or elicit urgent concern. The effects are more insidious and long-term and don’t amount to a
dramatic story for prime time. “Humans deprived of touch are prone to mental illness, violence,
compromised immune systems, and poor self-regulation,” Cross says. So serious are the effects
of touch deprivation, it’s considered by researchers to be worse than physical abuse.
Benefits of Touch
Stated more positively, science does support the preventive health benefits of touch. For
example, infant massage has gained popularity as studies have shown pre-term babies receiving
massage gain more weight and are healthier than non-massaged preemies. Experiments with
baby monkeys showed they preferred mother surrogates, like terry cloth dummies, to food.
Tiffany Field, PhD, founder of the Touch Research Institute, notes that in a study on pre-term
infants, massaging the babies increased their weight and allowed them to be discharged earlier.
Discharging babies earlier from expensive neonatal intensive care units could save the
healthcare system $4.7 billion annually.
In other research, scientists at the University of North Carolina found the stress hormone, cortisol,
was reduced with hugging. Cortisol is associated with anger, anxiety, physical tension, and
weakened immunity. They also discovered hugging led to positive physiological and emotional
changes in the body, noting that a mere 20 seconds of hugging boosted levels of the hormone
oxytocin, which improved heart function.
Massage therapy has been found useful in reducing symptoms such as anxiety, depression, pain,
and stress in conjunction with various illnesses and treatments, including anorexia nervosa,
arthritis, cancer, fibromyalgia, muscular pain and stiffness, strokes, and postsurgery care.
While more research is needed, massage therapy has also been shown to reduce symptoms
associated with alcohol withdrawal and smoking cessation, and can improve self-esteem, boost
the immune system, increase flexibility, and improve sleep.
You might think with all the problems in our expensive, symptom-driven American healthcare
system, we’d take every opportunity to afford ourselves health-promoting activities that are far
more pleasant than sweating it out at the gym. Yet, we are still finding our way in terms of
increasing our touch quotient.
Perhaps one of the fathers of the modern massage movement, the late Robert Noah Calvert, said
it best: “The application of caring human touch is an inherently innate behavior for giving and
receiving love, which all humankind wants and needs. The real purpose of giving massage is to
foster more depth of feeling for one another in order to bring out the love that often lies buried
beneath the pain of everyday suffering.”