Neuroscience Shorts 3: Touch is at the Center of Our Lives

“Embodied cognition” describes how we understand the world through our bodies. How things feel to us drives our thought and our behavior. When we say we’re “having rough day!” or that “she’s a warm person,” we are using words of physical sensation, rough and warm, to express how we are feeling. Touch is interwoven into the fabric of our interactions with the physical world. You can learn about Embodied Cognition and Communicative Touch in this Sappi Neuroscience Vid: 3.

Not only does our sense of touch tell us about the physical world, it’s also the interface through which we talk back. The action of touch is reciprocal—you can’t touch without being touched. We use it constantly to communicate, and interpersonal touch works as a social glue. How does this play out you might wonder? Studies show that people who are lightly touched by a server in a restaurant leave bigger tips;[1] doctors who touch their patients are seen as more caring (and their patients get well faster);[2] NBA teams who interact physically during games—high fives, chest-bumps, butt-slaps, and the like—consistently win more games.3 You can dig deeply into the science of touch by ordering your own copy of Haptic Brain, Haptic Brand: A Communicators Guide to the Neuroscience of Touch. [1] A Crusco, CG Wetzel, “The Midas touch: The effects of interpersonal touch on restaurant tipping”, (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin Vol 10(4), 1984), 512-517. [2] E Montague et al, “Nonverbal interpersonal interaction in clinical encounters and patient perceptions of empathy”, (Journal of Participatory Medicine Vol 5, 2013). [3] MW Kraus, C Huang, D Keltner, “Tactile communication, cooperation, and performance: An ethological study of the NBA”, (Emotion Vol 10(5), 2010), 745-749.

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