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  • Human interpersonal touch is crucial. It's social glue.

  • I think we underestimate how important touch actually is

  • in our social interaction.

  • Human touch is key to our survival. It's in our DNA.

  • Touch is deeply under-researched.

  • There are probably 100 papers on vision for every one on touch.

  • We tend to take touch for granted.

  • Touch relies literally on the whole of our skin.

  • It's the organ of touch.

  • But what happens when we touch other people?

  • And why is that special?

  • Touching other people is processed by the brain with different mechanisms.

  • We discovered very late - only in the 1990s -

  • that in humans we have a specialised set of cells in the skin,

  • which then travel with specialised pathways

  • to particular parts of the brain.

  • And this system is called the C-Tactile System.

  • The hand strokes parting the fur

  • sends this signal to the brain saying,

  • "You're in close physical contact with your best friend here."

  • And what that does in the brain is trigger the endorphin system.

  • We feel very relaxed, and - particularly important -

  • trusting in the person we're doing this activity with.

  • And that creates this sense of friendship.

  • Light, slow, stroking at exactly 2.5cm a second.

  • This is the caress that we are hard-wired to like.

  • It's comforting!

  • What happens here then?

  • So the cuddle sessions take place at one of the pods.

  • Cuddle therapy involves hugs, stroking, squeezes -

  • all sorts of forms of platonic touch.

  • It's a very simple practice.

  • Yet it can actually have rather powerful effects on people.

  • It can stabilise their heart rate. It can improve their weight gain.

  • And some studies for low birth weight babies

  • even suggest that the time they stay in hospital

  • can be reduced if they have lots of touch stimulation.

  • It's really forming the first part of social bonding.

  • Which is why I say if you really want to know how somebody feels about you,

  • don't listen to what they tell you, just feel how they touch you.

  • If we have a situation where we're not able to touch the people

  • in our daily lives that we normally touch,

  • it's not like everything is going to fall apart instantly.

  • But our feelings of connection, of empathy, of trust

  • will slowly degrade.

  • Anybody who I care about, you get a hug.

  • So my biggest struggle is not being able to hug my mum, to wash her hair,

  • to do all the things that we do bonding - paint her nails,

  • I do her feet for her. That one broke my heart.

  • Still when I think about it, I could cry.

  • If you deprive an animal of touch, the animals become literally sick

  • both in the mind - they develop a lot of anxiety -

  • and also they live less, and they're less healthy in the long term.

  • The whole social concept of touch is really changing in society.

  • Does it feel like the pupils are learning not to touch?

  • It does feel a little bit like that,

  • which is sad.

  • When people during lockdown were exposed to films

  • where there was natural touch, people had a jump.

  • They started talking to the TV, "No, you can't do that!"

  • So that's a good sign of how quickly we learn to inhibit ourselves.

  • I don't think you'll see people interacting in the same way

  • that we did before the pandemic.

  • I find it very unlikely that we would ever lose

  • the sense of importance of touch.

  • You should never say never, when it comes to evolution.

  • But it will all depend on whether other forms of behaviour

  • that allow us to trigger the endorphin system in the brain

  • to create friendships, really start to work better

  • or more efficiently than physical touch.

  • And I suspect that's unlikely

  • unless we give up all notion of having romantic relationships.

  • I think the future should be hugs - all day.

  • All day, every day.

Human interpersonal touch is crucial. It's social glue.

Subtitles and keywords

B1 INT touch brain bonding social cuddle system

What happens to humans when we can't touch? | BBC Ideas

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    Summer   posted on 2020/10/13
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