We all need more in­ter-brain cou­pling

Waikato Times - - Catalyst - BOB BROCKIE

Ihave a friend who is paid to care for peo­ple. She tells me that one of her older cus­tomers burst into tears when she pat­ted her arm.

The weep­ing woman apol­o­gised and ex­plained, ‘‘You are the first per­son to touch me for 40 years’’.

The healthy or heal­ing ef­fects of touch have been closely stud­ied at the Touch Re­search In­sti­tute at the Med­i­cal Univer­sity in Mi­ami, Florida. Di­rec­tor Tif­fany Field claims that her in­sti­tute’s re­search con­firms that touch re­duces stress, strength­ens the im­mune sys­tem, en­hances alert­ness and per­for­mance, and pro­motes trust and over­all well be­ing.

She thinks hu­mans are hard wired to feel touch – the skin needs stim­u­la­tion in the same way as ears and eyes do.

Field re­minds us that even fe­tuses cling to their um­bil­i­cal cords, that twin fe­tuses of­ten cling to each other and new­born ba­bies cling tightly to their par­ents’ fin­gers be­fore their eyes open.

Field has worked with chil­dren brought up in harsh Ro­ma­nian or­phan­ages, where ne­glected chil­dren were sel­dom touched, let alone cud­dled or nuz­zled.

As a re­sult, she found many of these or­phans’ brains shrank and they were sad and list­less.

Field’s ex­per­i­ments prove that touch of­ten re­lieves pain as ef­fec­tively as many anal­gesic drugs and anti-de­pres­sants – and with no bad side ef­fects.

Phys­i­ol­o­gists have long known that when lovers hold hands, their hearts can beat in uni­son and they can breathe in sync.

But now, other sci­en­tists find there’s more to it than that.

Lovers’ brain­waves also twin­kle in sync. Writ­ing in this month’s Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sciences, Amer­i­can and Is­raeli psy­chol­o­gists re­port on the ef­fect of hand-hold­ing on pain re­lief.

These psy­chol­o­gists used new tech­niques to scan the brain waves (the al­pha mu band) of 23 cou­ples who had been in love for over a year, to see if hand-hold­ing re­duced pain.

They did this by in­flict­ing some pain on the women’s arms while they held the hands of their part­ners, or sat next to their part­ners with­out touch­ing, or held the hands of friends or strangers.

Re­sult: Pain was most re­duced when the woman held the hand of her ro­man­tic part­ner, but less re­duced when she did not hold his hand, or held the hands of friends or strangers.

The more em­pa­thy the man had for the woman, the bet­ter their brain­waves were in uni­son, and the greater the pain re­duc­tion.

Dr Pavel Gold­stein has also gath­ered a lot of ev­i­dence show­ing that a part­ner’s hand-hold­ing goes a long way to ease pain of child­birth.

There is a grow­ing body of re­search con­firm­ing that re­al­ity of ‘‘heal­ing touch’’ and ‘‘in­ter­brain cou­pling’’.

Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists find that a cer­tain spot in your brain sparks when you feel pain.

The same cells spark in sym­pa­thy when you see other peo­ple in pain, as when watch­ing fire-walk­ing rit­u­als or watch­ing blood-cur­dling movies.

Field is wor­ried that to­day’s so­ci­ety is dan­ger­ously touch de­prived, as elec­tronic gad­getry re­duces face-to-face con­tact and many schools adopt no-touch­ing regimes.

Hu­mans are hard wired to feel touch as the skin needs stim­u­la­tion.

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