“See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. O, that I were a glove upon that hand
That I might touch that cheek!” William Shakespeare
The physical sensation of being touched can have a powerful effect depending on the way you are being touched and who is doing the touching.
Whether you are being gently stroked by a significant other or receiving an affectionate touch from a friend or family member, the pleasure that touch brings is an important part of most social relationships. Even in professional settings, a pleasant handshake helps reinforce the close association we often have with employers and co-workers. Touch can also be important in health care settings with worried patients often feeling reassured by the friendly touch of a doctor or nurse.
The sensation of being touched can produce a wide range of physiological and biochemical changes in the body including decreased heart rate and blood pressure as well as reduced cortisol (link is external) and increased oxytocin (link is external). MRI studies have also shown that gentle touching can activate key areas of the brain including the orbitofrontal and caudate cortex. Gentle touching also leads to changes in the brain's serotonin levels which may help explain why massaging can relieve pain.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.