The Emerging Science of Touch

ELANA SPIVACK, ‘The Emerging Science of Touch Reveals How Much We Don’t Yet Know About Pleasure’,, Inverse, BDG – New York (FEB. 14, 2023)

New research into the neuroscience of touch brings oxytocin’s status into question — and opens up different avenues for potential discoveries about this funny little thing we call love. Humans are touchy-feely creatures: We primarily understand and express our social connections via touch. The sense is crucial for navigating the world. We process touch in the homunculus in the brain’s somatosensory cortex. Not all touches are felt equally. Neurons activated by stimulation to the mouth and hands take up most of the homunculus, suggesting that these body parts are more sensitive than others and perhaps more useful to us as we fumble through the world and with each other. (…) Mechanical touch is that which discerns different objects. It’s the sense engaged when you’re digging through your bag to feel the cool smoothness of your phone or the leathery lump that is your wallet. Then there’s affective touch, which mediates relationships. (…) Oxytocin may not be the be-all-and-end-all love hormone, but touch is still critical for fermenting deep social bonds — and not just any old touch will do. Three centimeters per second is the optimal speed at which to stroke someone’s skin, according to Manon Bohic, a neuroscience researcher at Rutgers University. A warm touch works best, too, she tells Inverse, but measuring tape, a stopwatch, and thermometer aren’t necessary to set the mood. Most humans learn how to touch one another the right way starting in infancy. Touch is also not necessarily better the more it’s applied — there’s a sweet spot. If you keep dragging a rigid, leaden — but warm! — hand across someone’s back, just see what happens.