The Science Behind Touch: Transforming Mental and Physical States

April 13th, 2024

By Lily Anderson

Staff Writer for Wake Up World

In an age where technology often replaces human connection, a groundbreaking study sheds light on something instinctively known yet often overlooked: the transformative power of touch. Conducted by the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and the University Hospital Essen, this comprehensive analysis delves into how consensual touch can significantly enhance our mental and physical well-being.

The Surprising Scope of Touch

The Broad Benefits of Touch

Touch, a simple gesture of connection, has been found to hold profound benefits for our health. The study reveals, “yes, touch substantially improves both physical and mental wellbeing, for example via reduction of pain, anxiety, depression, and stress in adults.” Perhaps even more compelling is the discovery that those suffering from physical or mental health issues experience even greater benefits from touch interventions than their healthier counterparts. This insight underlines the potential of touch as a powerful yet underutilized tool in health and wellness spheres.

The Quest for the Right Kind of Touch

The research team, led by Packheiser and Professor Keysers, aimed to pinpoint the most effective form of touch. Surprisingly, the analysis suggests that the specifics of who touches you, how they touch you, and for how long are less critical than previously thought. Whether a long massage or a brief hug, the impact on wellbeing remains substantial. “The more often a touch intervention is offered, the greater the impact,” Packheiser notes, suggesting frequency as a key factor in the healing power of touch.

The Special Case of Newborns

One of the most poignant discoveries pertains to the impact of touch on newborns. The study indicates a marked benefit when touch is administered by a parent rather than a healthcare provider. This insight holds particular promise for addressing the challenges of premature births, suggesting a simple, yet profound intervention that could save lives.

Future Directions and Unexplored Territories

While the study provides valuable insights, it also highlights gaps in current research, particularly regarding human-to-animal contact and the effects of touch across different age groups. These uncharted areas present exciting opportunities for future studies to further unravel the mysteries of touch.

Embracing the Power of Touch

This comprehensive study confirms the health benefits of touch and expands our understanding of its potential applications. In a world where physical connection is increasingly scarce, rediscovering the power of touch could be key to enhancing our collective well-being. It reminds us that sometimes, the simplest acts can profoundly affect our health and happiness.

Practical Ways to Incorporate Touch into Your Daily Life

Embracing the findings of the recent study on touch, it’s clear that incorporating more consensual touch into our lives can profoundly benefit our mental and physical health. Here are practical ways to make touch a more significant part of your daily routine, fostering deeper connections and enhancing your well-being.

1. Prioritize Physical Greetings

When you meet friends and family, opt for a warm hug or a gentle pat on the back instead of a simple wave or verbal greeting. This small change can significantly increase touch frequency in your life and strengthen your connections.

2. Incorporate Touch into Your Family Routine

Make it a habit to give good morning or goodnight hugs to your family members. Establishing such routines provides comfort and ensures everyone starts and ends their day with a positive touch experience.

3. Explore Professional Touch Therapies

Consider scheduling regular sessions with a professional, such as a massage therapist or reflexologist. These therapies can offer both the physical benefits of touch and a moment of relaxation from the stresses of daily life.

4. Use Touch as Comfort

Remember the power of touch in times of stress or sadness. A comforting hug or holding hands can be incredibly soothing in difficult moments. It’s a simple yet powerful way to support others emotionally.

5. Adopt or Spend Time with a Pet

If circumstances allow, consider adopting a pet. Animals can offer significant comfort and companionship, and the act of petting can be soothing for both you and the animal. Even spending time with a friend’s or family member’s pet can provide moments of meaningful touch.

6. Experiment with Weighted Blankets

For those times when human or animal touch isn’t available, a weighted blanket can offer a sense of comfort and security. The pressure from the blanket simulates the feeling of being hugged or held, which can be particularly soothing before sleep.

7. Volunteer for Activities That Involve Touch

Look for volunteering opportunities that involve touch, such as assisting in an animal shelter, participating in programs for the elderly, or helping in childcare facilities. These activities provide the benefits of touch not only to others but also to yourself.


Integrating more touch into our lives doesn’t require monumental changes but rather small, consistent gestures of connection and care. As the study suggests, the frequency and intention behind the touch are more important than the contact’s duration or exact nature. By consciously incorporating touch into our daily interactions, we can enhance our well-being and deepen our connections with those around us.

Journal Reference:

  1. Julian Packheiser, Helena Hartmann, Kelly Fredriksen, Valeria Gazzola, Christian Keysers, Frédéric Michon. A systematic review and multivariate meta-analysis of the physical and mental health benefits of touch interventionsNature Human Behaviour, 2024; DOI: 10.1038/s41562-024-01841-8

About the Author

Lily Anderson is an enthusiastic writer and curious investigator of the latest scientific developments. Driven by a strong desire to learn, she has a knack for simplifying complex concepts into engaging stories, making science accessible and interesting to a broad audience. Lily’s work is important for connecting specialists with the general public, sparking wonder and fostering meaningful conversations about new scientific discoveries.

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