By Nasheetah Hossain
I wake up in the morning to my cat curled up on my chest. After petting her for a little bit and struggling to get her off of me, my next form of intimacy is a hug from my mom, after which she makes me coffee and breakfast. Walking into school for zero period, my friend sees that I look tired and offers me a shoulder to lean on. None of these everyday encounters are particularly special. All of these are simply expressions of platonic affection, but they are important parts of our day, whether we recognize it or not.
Even when a physical touch is romantic, it may seem like a simple sign of affection; however, its chemistry has left poets and artists hooked since the beginning of literature. Something about the very thought of holding hands with a loved one ignites an electric feeling in us not just because of the person but the actual physical intimacy.
This need for touch whether romantic or platonic is hardwired into our brains at a very young age, when we are in the fetal stage, to be exact. This is called the “palmar grasp reflex,” when the hand reflexively grabs what is placed in it.
According to the Huffington Post, a study led by Charles Nelson who is a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School measured the developmental progress of hundreds of children growing up in poor conditions in different Romanian orphanages. They had lived through years without being held, hugged, and had barely any sort of physical affection. This study illustrated that even though they were receiving proper nutrition, they continued to have numerous physical problems, including stunted growth from lack of physical intimacy. The need for human touch is a biological one.
Even when children are older, they need physical affection. According to a study completed by the Touch Research Institute, American teenagers have been found to touch each other less than French teenagers do, and are also more prone to aggressive verbal and physical behavior. The study concludes that American youth are more violent due to America being a “touch-phobic society.”
There is a correlation between health and physical affection in adults as well. Adults who are deprived from physical touch are known to have higher rates of depression and anxiety, according to Psychology Today. The act of physical touch, holding hands for instance, therefore has an impact on society too. Physical touch affects people’s pain management, blood pressure, anger management, show of violence, and results in a stronger immune system, increased trust, more interest in learning and therefore, results in an overall welfare of the society.
Where absence of affection hampers our mental, physical and emotional health, its presence can heighten our personal and interactive success as well. In an extensive investigation carried out by Psychology Today, researchers found that the NBA teams with the highest level of physical contact on-court scored the highest. One of the main reasons for that was how this sort of non-sexual touch provided a source of reassurance, causing players to perform significantly better than teams where there was less physical affection between teammates.
We know one thing for certain, the need for physical touch has been instilled in us from the very beginning, and it has consistently been crucial to our well being. Keeping this practice going could be as simple as reaching out a hand to our loved ones. It could also be as pivotal as providing physical affection instead of a text the next time a close friend is in need of sympathy.
Whatever the reason may be, our interaction with our loved ones provides intimacy, trust, and understanding in what we have, and is highly essential for being the best us. However, with Coronavirus spreading and the necessity of social distancing, this becomes challenging. We will need to attempt to provide that intimacy in other ways while we wait for the all clear for physical touch again.