A “pleasant contact” between parent and infant promotes social and physical development


Almost all parents see it in the first days after the birth of their child. A soft touch or a light caress, qualified as “pleasant touch”, stimulates the senses of her baby and induces a response revealing a parent-child bond. New research in this regard now finds that these interactions are not only important for the bond, but that they also rely on the social and physiological development of the child.

“Our results provide physiological and behavioral evidence that pleasant touch sensitivity appears early in development and therefore plays an important role in the regulation of human social interactions,” the researchers wrote. The results are important because they show that the implicit meaning of pleasant touch – to stimulate bonding – develops from early childhood. In turn, these social interactions continue into adulthood, as many adults lightly stroke or stroke their partner to express love and affection.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, have found that it takes a very specific type of stroke to induce this feeling of connection. One that is too fast or too slow does not necessarily activate the areas of social and physical development of the brain at the same time. With the right speed and the right smoothness, touch can show babies how touch is associated with emotional bonding.

To show this, they had a group of parents sit down with their children on their knees. The experimenters fed babies’ arms with a brush, changing the speed at which they moved the brush back and forth. Their shots took on three different speeds, defined as 0.3, three, or 30 centimeters per second. As they stroked the backs of the babies’ arms, they noted responses with physiological and behavioral measures.

The most engaging response came with the mid-speed hits, the researchers found. These strokes not only lowered the heart rate of the kids, but also made them more curious about the brush when he stroked them. Further strengthening the relationship between pleasant touch and the parent-child bond, the researchers found that parents with higher self-reported touch sensitivity were more likely to have children who responded more to the pleasant touch of the brush.

“One possibility is that the sensitivity of infants to pleasant touch arises from the direct or indirect experience of different levels of social touch depending on their caregiver’s sensitivity to social touch,” said Merle Fairhurst, cognitive neuroscientist at the Institute. , in a declaration. “Another possibility is that social contact is genetically inherited and therefore correlated between caregivers and infants. “

Regardless, the study only supports the importance of caregiver-infant contact. Children who do not have this type of interaction – often those who end up in foster homes or orphanages – tend to have increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol as they get older. , American scientist reported. This lack of affection can result in a child developing emotional, behavioral and social problems later in life. Similarly, the researchers plan to study how the brain responds to these pleasant touches using neuroimaging tools, and subsequently, how touch affects their psychology and future social function.

Source: Fairhurst M, Line L, Grossmann T. Physiological and behavioral responses reveal the sensitivity of 9 month old infants to pleasant touch. Psychological sciences. 2014.

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