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Heart rate variability is enhanced by long-lasting gentle touch

Poster
Authors Chantal Triscoli
Ilona Croy
Susann Steudte-Schmiedgen
Håkan Olausson
Uta Sailer
Published in International Convention of Psychological Science (ICPS). Vienna, Austria: 23-25 march
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Psychology
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Clinical Neuroscience
Language en
Links https://www.psychologicalscience.or...
Subject categories Psychology

Abstract

The affective dimension of touch, as coded by the C tactile afferents, plays an important role in the maintenance of the physical and social well-being of the individual. The present study investigates whether long-lasting pleasant touch performed at the velocity which elicits the highest CT firing frequency has a positive effect on autonomic responses and stress hormones. In a between-subjects design, 40 participants received either 40 minutes of brush stroking or vibration on the forearm, and rated the perceived pleasantness and intensity of the tactile stimulation in regular intervals. Salivary cortisol and alpha amylase levels, as well as measures of reward responsiveness, tactile sensitivity and interoceptive awareness were collected prior and after the tactile stimulation. Heart rate was registered throughout the whole experimental session. The pleasantness ratings decreased over continuous stimulation for both groups, with the brush stroking being perceived as more pleasant than vibration. The heart rate variability index “SDNN” increased over time for touch only, whereas it remained stable for vibration. Salivary cortisol levels decreased over time regardless the type of the tactile stimulation. These results indicate that prolonged pleasant touch at the CT optimized stroking velocity has a beneficial effect on the autonomic system, as shown by the increased SDNN, which is associated with wellbeing. The decrease in salivary cortisol levels for both touch and vibration suggests that several kinds of tactile stimulation may reduce stress. The above findings highlight the importance of long-lasting social touch interactions for improving the physiological state of the individual.

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