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Do you suffer from skin hunger?

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Posted at 9:32 PM, Sep 12, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-13 18:02:19-04

Feeling lonely, depressed or stressed?

A survey suggests lack of human touch or skin hunger could be to blame.

According to an article in the Western Journal of Communication, “skin hunger shows negative associations with general health, happiness, social support, relationship satisfaction, and attachment security.”

“People who touch have better relationships,” said Peter Andersen, a communications professor at San Diego State University. “They have higher levels of intimacy. Touch often produces positive emotions.”

Touch and physical contact with another person has physiological effects. After physical contact oxytocin is released into the bloodstream. Touch also produces endorphins.

It can also relieve pain and release positive chemicals into the bloodstream.

“Some studies show excessive time spent in a digital world is more more likely to produce loneliness,” Andersen said.

While digital is necessary and efficient, it is a poor mechanism for real interpersonal communication and does not allow a person to experience the same benefits they would from face-to-face contact and physical touch, Andersen said.

When it comes to being comfortable with physical contact, Andersen said Americans fall somewhere in the middle when compared to other cultures around the world.

Experts often base the comfort level a society has with physical contact by studying farewell rituals. In some Asian cultures there is almost no physical contact at all, certainly not in public, Andersen said. But if you look at Mediterranean cultures or the Italian culture you will see a lot more physical contact and touching, he said.

Even though Americans may fall in the middle of the touch spectrum, the average person is still not getting enough physical contact with others, he said.

“We know from studies with children, people will fail to thrive without it,” Andersen said. “We fail to achieve the touch quotient today. Think about it — primitive people all slept under on bear skin to keep warm.”

Andersen said he is concerned schools are becoming incredibly impersonal.

“Studies have shown the positive effects of touch in schools, but many sexual harassment policies prevent this from happening,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves, is there greater harm to following the letter of those harassment laws and creating incredibly cold environments?”

The good news is it doesn’t take much. The benefits from physical contact with someone else can be experienced with the simplest of gestures, according to Andersen, including a hug from a friend or a high five.

“When you feel safe with friends, share hugs and high fives,” Andersen said. “Make a commitment to this.”

There’s lots of research showing a person receives as much benefit from being touched as they do from being the person initiating the touching, he said.

Other benefits from touch include:

  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced Cortisol (the stress hormone)
  • Increased melatonin
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Increased blood flow to skin and vital organs
  • Relaxed chest muscles

Lynn Walsh is a data content producer and investigative reporter on the Scripps National Desk. She may be followed on Twitter through the handle @LWalsh.