Touch is the earliest of the five senses to be developed in the human embryo and the most developed of all our senses at birth. No wonder there are so many incredible benefits of touch.
Touch has been the focus of numerous studies that attempt to pinpoint the relationship between a child's healthy development from birth onwards, and the amount and quality of tactile stimulation that the child receives from the initial inception of life, as we know it. What is astounding are the startling results those studies have revealed, which all parents and primary caregivers of children need to be aware of, and which magnify the role of touch in children's physical, emotional, and psycho-social development.
Dr. Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institutes (TRI) has found this to be true. She points out that massage can stimulate nerves in the brain, "which facilitate food absorption, resulting in faster weight gain. It also lowers levels of stress hormones, resulting in improved immune function," Dr. Field Reports.
How Touch Works
The sense of touch is located in all the areas of the skin—that thin, less than one millimeter-thick barrier that separates our inner selves from the outside world. Unlike the senses of hearing, sight, smell, and taste, which are centralized in a specific area of the human head, touch receptors are spread out in all areas of the skin, located throughout our bodies. For this reason, touch vastly exceeds all other senses in sheer extent.
Touch receptors are connected to nerve fibers in the skin, which convey messages of pain, heat, cold, texture, and pressure to the brain, where those sensations are identified and their origins defined, often sending a lightning-fast reaction through the nervous system. The latter records those sensations (awareness, pleasant, innocuous, etc.), and acts as a defense mechanism, alerting the brain to potentially life-threatening situations.
Simply touching skin can create hormonal and emotional reactions, known as a "limbic touch responses," involving the affected tactile nerves under the skin. Touch can also aid in the production of endorphins: brain chemicals that kill pain naturally while bringing feelings of happiness, and heightening sensory perception. Enkephalin, an endorphin, produces euphoria while reducing pain.
Additionally, there is increasing evidence linking touch to a heightened functioning of the immune system in animals, specifically connecting the amount of touch received by infant monkeys to the amount of antibody titer those monkeys produce.