“Reach out and touch someone”, some of you may be old enough to remember when AT&T used this as their marketing slogan. In these more modern days we have a number of technological advances that allows for us to remain in “contact” with our friends, families and well, just about anyone and everyone! While high tech has made it possible to keep up minute by minute with the world, our need for plain old fashion touch is just as important. In his landmark book, “Touching”, Ashley Montagu calls touch the “mother of the senses” and states that it is the first of our senses to become “functional” during fetal development. He also recounts how in the early 1900’s doctors in medical institutions could not understand how mortality rates for infants admitted was almost 100% for each institution. It wasn’t until Dr. Fritz Talbot was visiting a hospital in Germany that he discovered a “secret”. He witnessed an old woman carrying around a baby on her hip and when he inquired as to who she was, found out that when a baby wasn’t doing well and the medical team did everything they could, they called her in and she would “turn the child around”. Dr Talbot brought back to the US the concept of touching infants; holding them, rocking them, stroking them. Amazingly infant mortality rates dropped from about 35% to just10% in one year!
Dr. Tiffany Fields established the Touch Research Institute at the University Of Miami School Of Medicine in 1992. Her goal, to really understand the importance of touch by creating studies that look at the impact of touch throughout a lifespan. Touch is so powerful that she list the benefits on the website (www.miami.edu/touch-research) and includes “enhances attentiveness, alleviates depressive symptoms, reduces pain, reduces stress hormones and improves immune function”.
In 1996 a study was completed that looked at the effect of a 15 minute chair massage vs. just relaxing in a chair for 15 minutes. The study compared EEG patterns and math computations. The results showed that while both groups showed signs of relaxation, the massaged group increased their accuracy on math computations as well as the speed of the computations! Additionally, the massaged group scored lower on job stress at the end of the five week study.
Even “casual touching” can be important. In a study that has been replicated numerous times in different settings, people rate service higher if there is some form of touch involved. In one such study, cashiers are instructed to place a person’s change directly in their hand and for the next customer just place the change on the counter. Researchers then stop the customer and ask about the service they have received. People receiving the change in their hand rate the service higher than the person who had to pick up their change from the counter. An article published in the New York Times (Feb 23, 2010) outlined even further evidence of the power of touch. In that article they describe a research paper that studied NBA teams and the interactions within teams. The authors of the paper, Mr. Michael Kraus, Ms. Cassy Huang and Dr. Keltner reported that “good teams tended to be touchier than bad ones. The most touch bonded teams were the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.”
I dare say that if the better performers are touching more than lesser ones ~ well can I get a high five here?
Mr. Nolan has been an educator for over 25 years and in the massage and health fitness industry for the past 23 years. He received his Bachelor of Science (Magnum Cum Laude) from the State University of New York at Cortland in Physical Education with a specialization in Exercise Sciences.He has taught a number of massage and fitness courses over the last 25 years. He maintains a private practice specializing in working with power athletes, body workers and people with chronic pain.