A body of research has, for decades, indicated the importance of touch to our physical and mental well-being. As human beings we thrive when we are in relationship with each other, and touch is basic component of all relationships. Touch helps us bond and heal. One study from University of Virginia indicated that people hold hands in the hospital were discharged days before people with no loved ones. Another study showed that servers who touch their customers increase their tips by more than 3 percent. Now, research suggests that touch may help people with low self-esteem in confronting their own mortality.
“Even fleeting and seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch may help people to deal more effectively with existential concern,” explains psychological scientist and lead researcher Sander Koole of VU University Amsterdam.
In a series of studies published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Koole and colleagues tested the hypothesis that people with low self-esteem deal with existential concerns by connecting with others. Says the Association for Psychological Science:
In one study, an experimenter approached participants as they walked through a university campus. The experimenter handed the participants questionnaires to fill out; for some of the participants, she accompanied the questionnaire with a light, open-palmed touch on the participant’s shoulder blade that lasted about 1 second. Interestingly, participants with low self-esteem who received the brief touch reported less death anxiety on the questionnaire than those who had not been touched.
Touch also seemed to act as a buffer against social alienation when participants were reminded of their mortality: Participants with low self-esteem showed no decreased in social connectedness after being reminded of death, but only if they had received a light touch. The research suggests that individuals with low self-esteem may desire, and even seek out, touch when they are confronted with their mortality.
“Our findings show that even touching an inanimate object — such as a teddy bear — can soothe existential fears,” notes Koole. “Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instill in people a sense of existential significance.”
Koole and her colleagues believe that the study confirms the importance of touch and its potential role in using traditional cognitive-based therapies to treat low self-esteem as well as relieve depression and anxiety.
Published originally on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.