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 September 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 September 1, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Monday, September 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) — Researchers say having a cup of coffee then taking a nap is more effective than a nap or coffee alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

AFP (Aug. 29, 2014) — Twenty college-age students are getting 100,000 dollars from a Silicon Valley leader and a chance to live in San Francisco in order to work on the start-up project of their dreams, but they have to quit school first. Duration: 02:20 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) — A new study suggests babies develop language skills more quickly if their parents imitate the babies' sounds and expressions and talk to them often. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Electrical Stimulation Boosts Brain Function, Study Says

Electrical Stimulation Boosts Brain Function, Study Says

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) — Researchers found an improvement in memory and learning function in subjects who received electric pulses to their brains. 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