A few more things you might not know

Sorry for my lateness! I really meant to send out my newsletter sooner, but things kept getting in the way, like poor Internet access, a crazy schedule and just plain exhaustion. You see, I spent the last couple weeks out of the country, in India for a friend's wedding and Japan for book research and some sight-seeing. I got back a few days ago, and I finally have some free time. I figured I'd keep this one short, adding to my previous list of fun facts about touch. Next month, or really in a few weeks, I'll tell you all about my meeting in Japan with the beauty company Shiseido, which is doing some pretty fascinating touch research.

1) Many primate species spend up to 20 percent of their time in the wild grooming each other, which helps them form social bonds and promotes cooperation. Research shows that this grooming helps them to reconcile conflicts, create allegiances regarding food gathering, maintain social hierarchies and attract mates. British anthropologist Robin Dunbar has a theory that humans don't groom nearly as much because we've found language to be a more efficient way of maintaining these relationships, especially in large social groups. I snapped the picture below while going for a hike in Kyoto. The expression on the face of that macaque getting a rub-down is priceless.

Monkey reserve at Arashiyama, a district in Kyoto known for its natural beauty.

Monkey reserve at Arashiyama, a district in Kyoto known for its natural beauty.

2) Peter Anderson, a communications professor at San Diego State University, conducted a series of studies 10 years ago examining how different cultures approach touch in diverse public places, such as international airports, grocery stores and malls. Asian cultures were at the lowest end of the touch scale, while Latin Americans and Middle Easterners were on the other. Anderson believes that people from warmer climates touch more than people from colder cultures, where they may have historically had so much work to do staying warm - collecting firewood, storing up food and building weather-proof homes - that they didn’t have as much time for physical affection. 

3) Our skin is covered in sensors that detect different types of touch, from vibration to raised edges to temperature to movement. Different touch sensations travel to our brains at different speeds. The fastest, which convey factual information about touch, zip up at 250 miles per hour and tell us about things like light sensations and body movements. The slowest, which have to do with the emotional qualities of touch such as pain and pleasure, inch along at around two miles per hour. When stroking your partner's arm, use steady pressure at a rate of one inch per second. That's when so-called C-fibers, which very slowly transport pleasant sensations to our brains, become the most activated. 

4) Some researchers say that modern society (including our obsession with communicating through technology and our workplace rules banning physical contact) is leaving us all touch-deprived. According to Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute in Miami, touch deprivation can lead to aggression, depression and bad health. Though I've written before about the power of touch, I have to admit I am a bit skeptical about the idea of touch deprivation. But have you heard about cuddle centers opening up all over the country? Maybe it's a sign we all need to be getting more hugs.

5) Touch can be a powerful social tool. Research by Michael Kraus, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne, shows that NBA basketball teams that start their season with more chest-bumps, butt slaps and high-fives tend to perform better together than those without as much physical contact. "Touching helps foster teamwork," Kraus says. Waitresses who lightly touch their customers garner bigger tips, and teachers who ask their students to demonstrate math problem solutions on a blackboard get more volunteers when they use touch. We might touch less than our primate ancestors, but it seems physical closeness performs many of the same functions for us.

Hope you're enjoying the start of spring!

Sushma subramanian