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It Really Is More Than a Feeling: New Meta-Analysis Concludes Healthy Touch Boosts Well-Being

Smiling at doctor ©istock
©Jacob Wackerhausen/iStock

Research—and common sense—affirm that the sense of touch plays an important role in human life. Now a new study concludes that there is “clear evidence” that therapeutic touch is beneficial across a large number of physical and mental health conditions and in people of all ages. 


It is well known that babies thrive with loving touch, and that regular, consensual hugs, kisses, and massages contribute to physical health and mental well-being throughout life. However, scientists have sought to understand the mechanics behind the healing powers of touch and how these can be harnessed for greater efficacy across various ailments. 


A group of scientists associated with the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience conducted a meta-analysis of dozens of studies on touch intervention therapies involving almost 13,000 people. Their study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, found that touch interventions have a “medium-sized effect” on people’s ailments. 

The studies all included “a touch versus no touch control intervention,” the authors said.  

baby and parents ©pexel
Courtesy of Danik Prihodko/Pexels. Public Doman

They found that “touch treatments” were particularly effective with regulating cortisol levels; increasing newborns’ weight; and reducing pain, depression, and anxiety in adults. 

The scientists also looked at personal versus impersonal interventions. They found that touch interventions with “objects or robots” brought similar physical health benefits to skin-to-skin interventions. However, skin-to-skin interventions brought greater mental health benefits than other types of interventions. 


Regarding who was providing the touching, the meta-analysis found no difference in health benefits for adults when touch interventions were administered by a “familiar person” versus a health care professional. However, among newborns, parental touch was by far the most beneficial. 


The team further found that more touch interventions were positively associated with improved outcomes for depression, anxiety, and pain reduction in adults.  


The magnitude of their data, the scientists said, supported their conclusion that “touch interventions can be systematically employed across the population to preserve and improve our health.” 



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