Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How touch can trigger our emotions

Date:
May 21, 2014
Source:
Cell Press
Summary:
While touch always involves awareness, it also sometimes involves emotion. Now, scientists describe a system of slowly conducting nerves in the skin that respond to gentle touch. Investigators are beginning to characterize these nerves and to describe the fundamental role they play in our lives as a social species. Their work also suggests that this soft touch wiring may go awry in disorders such as autism.

The nerves that respond to gentle touch, called c-tactile afferents (CTs), are similar to those that detect pain, but they serve an opposite function: they relay events that are neither threatening nor tissue-damaging but are instead rewarding and pleasant.
Credit: © Piotr Marcinski / Fotolia

While touch always involves awareness, it also sometimes involves emotion. For example, picking up a spoon triggers no real emotion, while feeling a gentle caress often does. Now, scientists in the Cell Press journal Neuron describe a system of slowly conducting nerves in the skin that respond to such gentle touch. Using a range of scientific techniques, investigators are beginning to characterize these nerves and to describe the fundamental role they play in our lives as a social species -- from a nurturing touch to an infant to a reassuring pat on the back. Their work also suggests that this soft touch wiring may go awry in disorders such as autism.

The nerves that respond to gentle touch, called c-tactile afferents (CTs), are similar to those that detect pain, but they serve an opposite function: they relay events that are neither threatening nor tissue-damaging but are instead rewarding and pleasant.

"The evolutionary significance of such a system for a social species is yet to be fully determined," says first author Francis McGlone, PhD, of Liverpool John Moores University in England. "But recent research is finding that people on the autistic spectrum do not process emotional touch normally, leading us to hypothesize that a failure of the CT system during neurodevelopment may impact adversely on the functioning of the social brain and the sense of self."

For some individuals with autism, the light touch of certain fabrics in clothing can cause distress. Temple Grandin, an activist and assistant professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University who has written extensively on her experiences as an individual with autism, has remarked that her lack of empathy in social situations may be partially due to a lack of "comforting tactual input." Professor McGlone also notes that deficits in nurturing touch during early life could have negative effects on a range of behaviors and psychological states later in life.

Further research on CTs may help investigators develop therapies for autistic patients and individuals who lacked adequate nurturing touch as children. Also, a better understanding of how nerves that relay rewarding sensations interact with those that signal pain could provide insights into new treatments for certain types of pain.

Professor McGlone believes that possessing an emotional touch system in the skin is as important to well-being and survival as having a system of nerves that protect us from harm. "In a world where human touch is becoming more and more of a rarity with the ubiquitous increase in social media leading to non-touch-based communication, and the decreasing opportunity for infants to experience enough nurturing touch from a carer or parent due to the economic pressures of modern living, it is becoming more important to recognize just how vital emotional touch is to all humankind."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Francis McGlone, Johan Wessberg, Hεkan Olausson. Discriminative and Affective Touch: Sensing and Feeling. Neuron, 2014; 82 (4): 737 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.05.001

Cite This Page:

Cell Press. "How touch can trigger our emotions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140521133512.htm>.
Cell Press. (2014, May 21). How touch can trigger our emotions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140521133512.htm
Cell Press. "How touch can trigger our emotions." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140521133512.htm (accessed August 1, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Friday, August 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dieting At A Young Age Might Lead To Harmful Health Habits

Dieting At A Young Age Might Lead To Harmful Health Habits

Newsy (July 30, 2014) — Researchers say women who diet at a young age are at greater risk of developing harmful health habits, including eating disorders and alcohol abuse. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

Newsy (July 29, 2014) — If you've been looking for love online, there's a chance somebody has been looking at how you're looking. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

Newsy (July 29, 2014) — Researchers have found certain facial features can make us seem more attractive or trustworthy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) — A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins