New research from the Association for Neuropsychoanalysis suggests that caresses play an important role in how the brain develops the mental image of the body. This study supports the idea that interoceptive signals such as emotional contact are important for understanding the body and help create a cohesive sense of self.
Decreased perception of these signals has been linked to issues with body image, a bad ghost, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia. In addition, other studies related to pain or depression they support the idea that petting is beneficial for health and well-being.
Hugs help maintain a positive sense of “I”
Fondling with affection, a common gesture between mothers and children or between couples, can increase the brain’s ability to feeling of belonging to one’s body and maintain a healthy sense of “I”.
The study we are referring to was published in Frontiers Psychology and was led by Dr Aikaterini Fotopoulou, Director of the Neuropsychoanalysis Association, and Mark Jenkinson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK.
52 healthy adults participated and used an experimental technique known as the “rubber hand illusion”. In this technique, the participant is seated at a table with their eyes half covered (to reduce their visual field). He rests his arms on the table, but one of them is hidden, because he has his rubber hand on it. By stimulating the rubber hand, the individual perceives that he is stimulating his real hand, although it is the rubber hand which receives the caresses. This technique demonstrates the changing nature of one’s own bodily perception.
In previous studies, it has been shown that a emotional caress, Characterized by slow stimulation of the skin (between 1 and 10 cm per second), correlates with pleasant emotions and improves anxiety symptoms. Dr. Fotopoulou’s team wanted to know if the emotional caress affected the body’s understanding of the body.
In this research, the rubber hand illusion technique was adapted to incorporate different types of caresses: slow and fast caresses (synchronized and unsynchronized), and emotional caresses. After the test, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire measuring their subjective experience of the experience.
This study supports the idea that the perception of interoceptive signals such as emotional contact helps build the mental image of one’s own body, as the perception of affective touch in the brain is one of a series of signals that help to monitor the homeostasis.
Petting helps relieve pain, depression and boost the immune system
Petting not only makes you feel good and communicates positive feelings to you, but several studies show that it can be effective in reducing pain, boosting the immune system, or fighting depression.
A study by the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that petting promotes the release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces relaxation and helps us feel full and happy. According to the study’s authors, people who are single and unrelated tend to be more depressed and sad.
Other benefits of caresses
In addition to the benefits we have already stated regarding cuddling, science seems to provide more data that supports the idea that cuddling promotes the well-being of all of us. Here are some examples:
Mother’s hugs heal the effects of pregnancy stress on children
The emotions a mother experiences during pregnancy they affect the pregnant baby in some way. During a stressful situation, your body responds by releasing hormones that reach the baby through the placenta, which is associated with various alterations in its development. A study published in PlosOne seems to indicate that the cuddles of mothers towards their children at birth reduce stress and negative emotions of the latter after birth and promote their physiological adaptability.
Improves lung function
Research from the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami seems to reveal that stroking improves lung function, Immune function and improves the health of our heart. Human contact is important for all ages.
Helps control blood pressure
According to a study from the University of North Carolina, it seems that people regularly hug and hug their partner, they have a drop in blood pressure and suffer less from pathologies associated with the heart.