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Exposure shapes the perception of affective touch

Journal article
Authors U. Sailer
Rochelle Ackerley
Published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
Volume 35
Pages 109-114
ISSN 1878-9293
Publication year 2019
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Physiology
Pages 109-114
Language en
Keywords Human, Touch deprivation, C tactile, Stroking, Social touch, cognitive decline, pleasant, stroking, experience, afferents, autism, adults
Subject categories Neurosciences


Touch is a common occurrence in our lives, where affective and inter-personal aspects of touch are important for our well-being. We investigated whether touch exposure affects hedonic and discriminative aspects of tactile perception. The perceived pleasantness and intensity of gentle forearm stroking, over different velocities, was assessed in individuals reporting to seldom receive inter-personal touch, and in controls who received touch often. The groups did not differ in their stroking intensity judgements, nor in tactile discrimination sensitivity; however, individuals with low touch exposure evaluated the pleasantness of touch differently. These individuals did not differentiate pleasantness over the stroking velocities in the same way as the control group. The pleasantness curve for the low touch exposure group was significantly flatter and they rated 3 cm/s stroking as significantly less pleasant. Other physiological and questionnaire measures were obtained and the appreciation of touch from familiar persons was positively related to the pleasantness of touch in controls, but this was not found in low touch exposure individuals. This suggests that the association of human caresses from well-known individuals, with the pleasure derived, may depend on continued exposure to it.

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