We all need more inter-brain coupling
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.