From the moment we are born, touch plays a major role in our lives. A baby is placed on his or her mother’s chest right after birth to form a connection and to be soothed. Touch is also one of the senses through which babies first explore their world. Touch brings about feelings of security and helps us to understand our environment.
Touch also plays a major role in romantic relationships. We often remember the first time that we held someone’s hand, had our first kiss or were hugged and comforted by a romantic partner. So how important is touch really?
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Research has examined the role of social support in mitigating the negative impact of stress and improving our overall well-being. Researchers Coan, Schaefer and Davidson (2006), took this research one step further and examined how support, in the form of hand holding, could affect the amount of pain a person experiences.
In their study, 16 married women in highly satisfactory marriages were asked to view images that would indicate either safety or threat while holding either their husband’s hand, the hand of an anonymous male experimenter, or not holding anyone’s hand at all. During this time, their neural responses were measured (they were placed in a fMRI).
Results demonstrated that women who held their husband’s hands had the lowest unpleasantness ratings. The spouse and stranger hand-holding conditions were also both less arousing than the condition in which the women were not holding anyone’s hand. This provides evidence that holding someone’s hand can diminish neural response to threat.
What was also interesting was that, within the sample, those who rated their marriages as more satisfying derived even more of a benefit from holding their spouse’s hand. Therefore, even within this sample of highly satisfied married couples, the benefits of spousal hand-holding were maximized in those couples with high marital quality. Overall, this study demonstrated the importance of hand-holding and the quality relationships in reducing the response to threat.
In another study, which was conducted with 406 participants from the Pittsburgh area, touch in the form of a hug was shown to have beneficial effects.
In this study, conducted by Cohen, Janicki-Derverts, Turner and Doyle (2015), participants were exposed to a virus that causes the common cold and were monitored to examine any potential signs of illness. Their results demonstrated that among those who were infected, greater perceived support and more frequent hugs predicted less severe signs of illness.
As the two previous studies show, touch can have an impact on our responses, as well as our physical health. So now that you know the benefits of touch, how might you be able to incorporate it in your own romantic life?
You can incorporate touch in your relationship in a variety of ways. Below are some simple suggestions.
- Hug your partner before leaving for the day and when returning home.
- Cuddle your partner before you go to sleep.
- Hold your partner’s hand when out on a walk.
- Give your partner a massage and get one in return.
- Dance together more.
To create more intimacy in your relationship, and boost your health and well-being along the way, be sure to place importance on the power of touch.
You may also be interested in 11 Body Language Cues & What They Really Mean
Coan, J. A., Schaefer, H. S. & Davidson, R. J. (2006). Lending a hand: Social regulation of the neural response to threat. Psychological Science, 17, 1032-1039.
Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., Turner, R. B. & Doyle, W. J. (2015). Does hugging provide stress-buffering social support? A study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness. Psychological Science, 26(2), 135-147.