Free Medicine

The soothing effect of touch is self-evident. A hug from a loved one can ease the nerves before a stressful event. A massage can unwind the tensions of a tough day. There are many more examples that we could go into.

Despite its significant impact on psychological health, touch has not been a primary focus of psychological research. Although numerous studies highlight the mental and physical benefits of touch, the diversity in methodologies and participant groups makes it challenging to consolidate these findings into general conclusions.

A New Meta-Analysis on Touch and Well-Being
In an effort to systematically compile and analyze existing research on touch and its effects on well-being, Julian Packheiser from the Social Neuroscience lab at Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, and his team undertook a meta-analysis (Packheiser et al., 2024). This type of study aggregates data from multiple sources to provide more reliable and robust results than individual smaller studies might offer.

The meta-analysis incorporated data from 137 studies and included a literature review of an additional 75 studies that could not be integrated numerically. With data from nearly 13,000 volunteers, the insights gained from this study are considerably substantial.

The Positive Impact of Touch on Health and Psychological Well-Being
The findings from Packheiser and his colleagues revealed several key benefits of touch:

For both newborns and adults, interventions involving touch markedly enhanced physical and mental health.

In newborns, practices such as kangaroo care not only regulated stress hormone levels but also improved temperature control, breathing, and even liver function.

In adults, touch-based interventions like hugs or massages significantly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety and alleviated physical pain. These effects were notably stronger among patient groups than in healthy individuals. The study also explored the efficacy of robotic touch interventions, finding that while robot-performed massages could relieve physical pain, they were less effective at improving mental health compared to human touch.

Positive outcomes were reported both from touch by familiar individuals, like friends, and by professionals, such as licensed massage therapists.

These findings affirm the substantial benefits of touch for enhancing both physical and mental well-being. So next time you’re feeling down, consider the scientifically backed benefits of a simple hug—it just might lift your spirits.

I find it very interesting that they included robot studies. Though I am not at all surprised with the conclusion.

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