Chronic Conditions? Touch Interventions Offer Relief, Study Finds

Contrary to common assumptions, the nature of the touch, the person providing it, or the duration appears to matter less than the frequency of the touch.

A comprehensive analysis of touch interventions conducted by researchers from the Social Brain Lab at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and the University Hospital Essen has revealed profound insights into the impact of touch on both physical and mental health.

The study, which aggregated hundreds of individual studies, sheds light on the effectiveness of touch in reducing pain, anxiety, depression, and stress, with particular benefits observed in individuals with existing health conditions.

Contrary to common assumptions, the nature of the touch, the person providing it, or the duration appears to matter less than the frequency of the touch. This suggests that even brief interactions like hugs can have a significant impact on well-being. The research underscores the importance of touch interventions, especially for those in need of support due to physical or mental health challenges.

Lead author Packheiser emphasizes the relevance of touch interventions, stating, “This is especially relevant considering how often touch interventions are overlooked.”

Professor Keysers, director of the Social Brain Lab, highlights the study’s aim to identify the most effective types of touch interventions. The findings suggest that the frequency of touch is paramount, with the frequency of the intervention correlating directly with its effectiveness. This implies that small gestures of connection, offered frequently, can have substantial benefits for individuals’ well-being.

The study also delved into the question of whether touch interventions need to be human at all. While non-human touch from objects or robots can improve physical well-being, human touch appears essential for alleviating mental health conditions.

Frédéric Michon, the last author of the study, explains that while robot and object interventions can be effective for physical health, they are less effective for mental well-being. This highlights the emotional component of touch and the importance of an emotional bond in touch interventions aimed at improving mental health.

The research further emphasizes the enhanced benefits of parental touch for newborns. Touch interventions conducted by parents were found to be more beneficial for newborns compared to those performed by healthcare workers. This finding has significant implications for supporting infant health, particularly in critical care situations.

Michon points out the potential impact of this discovery, stating, “Death rates due to premature births are high in some countries, and the knowledge that a baby benefits more from the touch of their own parent offers another easily implementable form of support for the baby’s health.”

While the study provides valuable insights into touch interventions, there are areas where further research is needed. The researchers note the lack of studies exploring touch interventions across different age groups, including children and teenagers. Additionally, studies investigating human-to-animal contact are limited, leaving questions unanswered about the potential benefits of such interactions.

In conclusion, the study underscores the significant benefits of touch interventions for both physical and mental health. By identifying the factors that influence the effectiveness of touch interventions, researchers hope to maximize their benefits and focus future research in this important field.