Rather than send you my typical update this month, I figured that I’d instead present you with my “Top 10 Facts About Touch.” I'm not sure if these really do rank as the top, and there are so many I left out that I’m wondering if I might have to do a repeat some time soon. But for now, here goes...
1) Many scientists say that touch is our most mysterious sense. We understand the chemical process of taste and the transformation of light into electrical stimulus in the eye, but by comparison our understanding of touch is still in its early stages. We don’t yet know how pressure on our skin gets converted into a feeling.
2) Touch is technically just what we sense on our skin. But there’s a whole host of sensations that actually make up how we feel around our surroundings – movement and signals from the joints, tendons and muscles. That much bigger sense is called haptic perception.
3) A good massage does more than just make us feel good. It decreases blood levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone that when chronically elevated can impair both our physical and mental health. Studies also show that massage has an effect on immune function and inflammation.
4) There's a theory that during human evolution, our social connections were so important to our survival that the emotional cues we developed to maintain these relationships piggybacked on our pain signals, which is perhaps why we feel physical anguish during a breakup.
5) The most sensitive mammal in the world is presumed to be the homely star-nosed mole. Its star organ helps it find its way through dark underground networks of tunnels to find worms and insects to eat.
6) Swedish massage was invented in the late 1800s by a Dutchman named Johan Georg Mezger. He was a Francophile, which is why the basic strokes - effleurage, tapotement, etc. - are in French.
8) Touch affects taste. According to Charles Spence, an English professor of experimental psychology, we actually rate food as tasting better when we eat it with heavier silverware. Spence is currently consulting with a cookware company to help design eating utensils to enhance our food's flavors.
9) A lack of human touch is impacting the mental health of Ebola victims.
10) I found out yesterday that I passed my massage midterm!