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Gentle Touch Perception Across the Lifespan

Journal article
Authors Isac Sehlstedt
Hanna Ignell
Helena Backlund Wasling
Rochelle Ackerley
H. Olausson
I. Croy
Published in Psychology and Aging
Volume 31
Issue 2
Pages 176-184
ISSN 0882-7974
Publication year 2016
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation
Pages 176-184
Language en
Keywords pleasant touch, age, psychophysics, C-tactile afferents, unmyelinated tactile afferents, human hairy skin, pleasant touch, cutaneous mechanoreceptors, odor identification, social support, normative data, fiber density, nerve, age, Geriatrics & Gerontology, Psychology
Subject categories Health Sciences


Pleasant, affective touch provides various health benefits, including stress and depression relief. There is a dichotomy between mechanoreceptive afferents that predominantly signal discriminative (myelinated A-beta) and affective (unmyelinated C-tactile) aspects of touch. It is well documented that discriminative abilities of touch decline with age. However, a thorough investigation of how the pleasant aspects of touch develop with age has not been previously attempted. Here, we investigated the relationship between age and psychophysical ratings in response to gentle stroking touch. One hundred twenty participants (60 males, 60 females) ages 13-82 years were presented with C-tactile optimal and suboptimal stroking velocities, and rated pleasantness and intensity. Moreover, to examine the specificity of age effects on touch perception, we used olfactory stimuli as a cross-sensory comparison. For all ages, we found that C-tactile optimal stimuli were rated significantly more pleasant than C-tactile suboptimal stimuli. Although, both touch and olfactory intensity ratings were negatively correlated with age, a positive correlation between pleasantness ratings of touch (but not olfactory stimuli) and age was found. We conclude that the affective, but not the discriminative, aspects of touch are enhanced with increasing age. The increase of pleasantness of all touch stimuli in late adulthood is discussed in relation to cognitive modulations.

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