Longing for touch: now and before Covid-19

This post is also available in Dutch.

Many of us may not give much thought to the sense of touch. Yet two surveys recently revealed the links between touch and well-being and that we were already touch deprived before the pandemic.

Touch is vital

For many of us, the world is dominated by vision. But in fact, touch, and not vision, is the window to the world from day one. A foetus experiences touch before it can experience other senses in the womb. Later in life, thanks to touch, we “get in touch” (pun not intended) with our physical environment. Touch plays a big role in our social relationships too by allowing us to express emotions and bond with others. More recently, Covid-19 has shown how crucial the sense of touch is to our well-being.

Links between touch deprivation and the severity of Covid-19-related restrictions

A recent survey investigated how the Covid-19-related restrictions affected touch frequency and the perceptions of touch pleasantness. The survey participants – a vast majority living in the Netherlands – rated the extent to which they felt deprived of touch and answered questions about work and living conditions, along with the Covid-19 related regulations they had to follow. The survey also asked participants to watch videos showing a forearm that was stroked and rate the pleasantness of the observed touch. Touch shown in the videos were of two manners, affectionate and non-affectionate, with the difference being that the non-affectionate touch was produced faster than the affectionate one.

The survey results showed that participants felt touch deprived and that they perceived both affectionate and non-affectionate touch as pleasant. Unsurprisingly, the severity of measures and a longer duration of Covid-19 restrictions were linked to higher levels of perceived touch deprivation. It is also intriguing that even the participants who lived with housemates with whom they had good relationship quality indicated feeling touch deprived. This may mean that there are different types of touch that occur in different contexts: professional, friendly, and intimate. While the opportunities for intimate touch might not have diminished drastically, the instances of other types of touch did. The survey, however, did not explicitly ask about the frequency of different types of touch. Another thing that is inconclusive based on this survey is whether or not people are more touch deprived than they were before the pandemic because researchers did not have the data for pre-pandemic times to compare the two.  

Perceiving a lack of opportunities for touch before Covid-19

A large global survey, largely conducted right before the pandemic measures had started (January – March 2020), does show that people wanted more touch even in pre-pandemic times. That is, around 40% of participants said that society did not allow them enough opportunities for touch. The only region that did think there were sufficient opportunities for touch was South America. The global survey also found a link between being touched more recently and higher scores on well-being and lower loneliness.

This fascinating hunger for touch definitely deserves more research because as of now we can only guess what the reasons are. Covid-19 will hopefully go away one day, but longing for touch probably won’t…

Original language: English

Author: Julija Vaitonyte
Buddy: Christina Isakoglou
Editor: Marisha Manahova
Translator: Jill Naaijen
Editor translation: Wessel Hieselaar

Image by Luisella Planeta Leoni via Pixabay

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