New research by the Association of Neuropsychoanalysis seems to indicate that strokes 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 touch are important for understanding the body and help to create a coherent sense of self.

Decreased perception of these signals has been linked to body image problems, phantom pain, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia. In addition, other studies related to pain or depression also support the idea that caresses bring benefits to health and well-being .

Caresses help maintain a sense of "I" positive

Caressing with affection, a common gesture between mothers and children or between couples, can increase the brain’s ability to build the sense of ownership of one’s body and maintain a sense of "I" health.

The study to which we refer was published in Frontiers Psychology , and was headed by Dr. Aikaterini Fotopoulou, director of the Neuropsychoanalytic Association , and by Mark Jenkinson, professor of the department of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom.

Fifty-two healthy adults participated and used an experimental technique known as "rubber hand illusion". In this technique, the participant sits at a table with his eyes half covered (to reduce his field of vision). He places his arms on the table, but one is hidden, as he has the rubber hand on top of him. By stimulating the rubber hand, the individual perceives that they are stimulating their real hand, although it is the rubber hand that receives the caresses. This technique demonstrates the changing nature of one’s body’s perception.

In previous studies, it has been shown that an affective caress , characterized by a slow stimulation of the skin (between 1 and 10 cm per second), correlates with pleasant emotions and improves anxious symptoms . Dr. Fotopoulou’s team wanted to know if emotional caressing affected the brain’s understanding of the body.

In this research, the technique of the rubber hand illusion was adapted to incorporate different types of caresses: slow and fast caresses (both synchronized and non-synchronized), and affective caresses. After the test, participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire that measured their subjective experience of the experiment.

This study supports the idea that the perception of interoceptive signals such as touch helps to build a mental image of one’s body, since the perception of touch in the brain is part of a series of signals that help to monitor homeostasis .

Caressing helps ease pain, depression, and strengthens the immune system

Caresses not only make you feel good and communicate positive feelings, but several studies show that they can be effective in fighting pain, strengthening the immune system or fighting depression.

A study conducted by American Journal of Psychiatry seems to indicate that caressing favors the release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces relaxation and helps us feel full and happy. According to the authors of the study, people who are single and not in a romantic relationship tend to be more depressed and sad.

Other benefits of stroking

In addition to the benefits we have already indicated with respect to touching, science seems to provide more evidence to support the idea that touching is good for all of us. Here are some examples:

Maternal caresses heal the effects of pregnancy stress on children

The emotions that the mother experiences during pregnancy affect in one way or another her unborn child . When living through a stressful situation, her body reacts 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 caresses of mothers to their children when they are born reduce the stress and negative emotions of the child after birth and favour its physiological adaptability.

Improves lung function

Research from the Touch Research Institute in Miami seems to reveal that stroking improves lung function , immune function and improves our heart health. The human touch is important for all ages.

Helps control blood pressure

According to a study from the University of North Carolina, it appears that people regularly give their partners hugs and caresses, have lower blood pressure and suffer from less heart disease.