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Friday, August 29, 2008

Loving Touch

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The Therapeutic Nature of Loving Touch
Mark Tyrell
When was the last time something `touched' you? Do you know someone who has `the
common touch'? And isn't it nice when you experience `the personal touch'?
Physical contact is so important to human beings that it is hardwired into our language, but
these days we may be `out of touch' with just how central a need this is. Here Mark Tyrrell
takes a look at what the research says about touch ­ including one startling finding that lack
of human touch can actually kill!
Science Studies Touch
The scientific study of touch began by accident back in the 1920's when a researcher
Fredrick Hammett removed certain vital glands from rats. To his amazement some of the rats
survived the procedure. Even more surprisingly, most of the rats who survived came from a
colony which had been regularly petted by their owners. These rats were less timid,
apprehensive and highly strung than the less handled rats. The petted rats were six times
more likely to survive the operation than non-handled rats.
Loved babies
In the 1940's a doctor, Fritz Talbot, visited a children's clinic in Dseldorf. The wards were neat
and tidy, but something caught his attention. He noticed an old, rather plump woman carrying
a sickly looking baby on her hip. He asked the medical director who this woman was. `Oh,
she's old Anna', came the reply. `When we have exhausted all medical possibilities for a baby
we give it to her to hold and stroke. She always seems to be successful!'
This observation and others led to big changes in the way some `foundling' institutions were
run. Bellevue hospital in New York instituted a new policy: every baby was to be picked up,
held, touched, gentled and mothered several times a day. The death rate for infants
plummeted to less than 10%. A vital human need had been discovered; touch.
Premature babies and touch
For many years premature infants were touched only minimally to minimise the risk of
infection. It also avoided arousing the infant and putting undue strain on the heart and lungs.
However premature babies need to be touched just like other babies. Touch comforts,
increases weight and ultimately decreases medical costs.
In one study, underweight premature babies received special attention. For ten days the
infants were given three fifteen minute massages. Warm gentle hands lightly stroked the
babies from head to foot and gently exercised the arms and legs. Weight gain is a critical
factor in the survival of a premature baby and even though the touched babies consumed the
same number of calories as the untouched babies they gained on average 50% more weight
per day.
The Therapeutic Nature of Loving Touch

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In addition, the stimulated babies had more efficient metabolisms and were able to go home
on average six days earlier. Up to a year later they had maintained their growth advantage
and had better mental and physical abilities. And all from ten days of therapeutic touch.
Touch not just for kids
Astounding as this is, touch is vital in adults as well as infants. A caring touch or even an
accidental brush it seems can lift our spirits. In one study people who had spent no longer
than fifteen minutes in a library were asked by researchers how they rated their enjoyment of
their time in the library. People who had brushed hands `accidentally', with the planted
librarian reported a more enjoyable time. Presumably the touch would have been subliminal.
Standoffishness - what is it with the English?
How much we touch is partly driven by our cultural and family backgrounds. In the 1960's
psychologist Sidney Jourard roamed cafés in the US, England, France and Puerto Rico
observing couples for a minimum of one hour. He tallied up the number of touches between
couples in these various countries. He found that an average couple in Puerto Rico touched
180 times in one hour, in France it was 120, in the USA it was twice and in good old England
the couples never touched! Perhaps things have changed since.
A great excuse for a massage
So, if you don't have someone close and affectionate in your life what then? Well it seems
that having regular massage can also offer advantages. People report feeling more relaxed
and alert, happier and more comfortable after receiving a massage. If you are relaxed and
have been touched tenderly you'll have more spare capacity to work and live more effectively.
So massage is not self indulgence then!
We may even get benefits from imagining a loving hug. One public speaker friend of mine
imagines hugging his young daughter before commencing large presentations. He swears by
this, saying that it gives him confidence and comfort.
Stay in touch!

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