“As our social world is becoming increasingly visual and digital, it is easy to forget the power of touch in human relations,” said Mariana von Mohr, lead author of the study.
The study from the University College London analyzed the relationship of touch and social isolation. It differentiated the effect of a slow, soft touch and a quick, neutral touch after a rejection. For the study, the researchers analyzed how 84 women felt after being rejected or socially excluded. The participants played a computerized ball-tossing game, wherein three players passed the ball to each other. They were led to think that they were playing with other people, but in reality the two other players were computer-simulated.
The women took a break for 10 minutes from playing to answer questions about feelings threatened by social exclusion, such as the feelings of belonging, self-esteem, meaningful existence, and control. When the participants resumed to play, the other players suddenly stopped throwing balls at them after some time which made the women feel excluded. Then, the researchers blindfolded the women and touched their left forearms using a soft-bristled brushed at either a slow or fast speed. Later on, the participant were asked the same questions.
Results showed that participants who received a slow touch had reduced feelings of negativity and social exclusion than those who were touched at a fast touch, regardless of their general mood remaining the same in both conditions. Yet, neither of the touches totally removed the negative effects of being excluded.
Senior author Katerina Fotopoulou explained that mammals naturally need closeness and attachment. The study was the first to show that mere slow, gentle stroking by a stranger can reduce feelings of social exclusion after social rejection.
“What is interesting however is that social support was optimally conveyed only by a simple, yet specific, instance of touch. No words, or pictures were necessary, at least in the short term,” she added.
“This finding builds on evidence that the same kind of touch can have unique effects on physical pain and it can have implications for the role of touch in various mental and physical care settings,” Fotopoulou said.
The researchers noted that more studies are needed to identify the effect of physical contact, social context, and how results differ with temperature. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports and funded by the European Research Council.
Social media may not actually be "social". A study from the University of Pittsburgh found that too much time on social media may cause feelings of social isolation. Results, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, showed that U.S. adults aged 19 to 32 who visited social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram for at least 58 visits or more a week felt three times more socially isolated than those who visited less than nine times a week. Moreover, those who spent an average of at least two hours a day on social media felt two times more socially isolated than those who spent 30 minutes or less a day on those sites.
Study co-author Brain Primack said that it could either be that when people feel socially excluded, they go online more in an effort to feel less sad, or that spending more time on social media makes people feel lonely. (Related: Social networking leads to isolation, not more connections, say academics.)
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