Touch for socioemotional and physical well-being: A review

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271 Scopus citations


This review briefly summarizes recent empirical research on touch. The research includes the role of touch in early development, touch deprivation, touch aversion, emotions that can be conveyed by touch, the importance of touch for interpersonal relationships and how friendly touch affects compliance in different situations. MRI data are reviewed showing activation of the orbitofrontal cortex and the caudate cortex during affective touch. Physiological and biochemical effects of touch are also reviewed including decreased heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol and increased oxytocin. Similar changes noted following moderate pressure massage appear to be mediated by the stimulation of pressure receptors and increased vagal activity. Increased serotonin and decreased substance P may explain its pain-alleviating effects. Positive shifts in frontal EEG also accompany moderate pressure massage along with increased attentiveness, decreased depression and enhanced immune function including increased natural killer cells, making massage therapy one of the most effective forms of touch.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)367-383
Number of pages17
JournalDevelopmental Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Development
  • Massage
  • Socioemotional
  • Touch
  • Well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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