Caresses enjoyable vicariously, too

It is well-known that we humans enjoy sensual caresses, but the brain reacts just as strongly to seeing another person being caressed, reveals research from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Credit: University of Gothenburg

It is well-known that we humans enjoy sensual caresses, but the brain reacts just as strongly to seeing another person being caressed, reveals research from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Being gently caressed by another person is both a physical and an . But the way we are touched and the reaction this elicits in the brain are a science of their own.

The Soft Brush Test

Researchers from the Institute of and at the University of Gothenburg's Sahlgrenska Academy have studied how the brain reacts to caresses. Volunteers were given to measure blood flows in the brain while being stroked either slowly or quickly with a soft brush.

Same reaction via video

Not unexpectedly, the brain reacted most strongly to the slow strokes. More surprising results emerged when the volunteers instead watched videos of another person being caressed.

"The aim was to understand how the brain processes information from sensual contact, and it turned out that the brain was activated just as quickly when the volunteers got to watch someone else being caressed as when they were being caressed themselves," says India Morrison, one of the researchers behind the study. "Even when we are only watching sensual skin contact, we can experience its emotional meaning without actually feeling the touch directly."

Love or fight?

As a comparison, the volunteers also got to watch a video where a hand caresses an inanimate object, and in this case the brain was not activated anywhere near as strongly.

So what do these results mean?

"They indicate that our brain is wired in such a way that we can feel and process other people's , which could open up new ways of studying how we create ," says Morrison. "It's important for us as people to understand the significance of different types of touch – to know whether two people are in a relationship or are about to start a fight."

The study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Signals from stroking have direct route to brain

Apr 14, 2009

Nerve signals that tell the brain that we are being slowly stroked on the skin have their own specialised nerve fibres in the skin. This is shown by a new study from the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. ...

Recommended for you

Molecular basis of age-related memory loss explained

8 hours ago

From telephone numbers to foreign vocabulary, our brains hold a seemingly endless supply of information. However, as we are getting older, our ability to learn and remember new things declines. A team of ...

The neurochemistry of addiction

9 hours ago

We've all heard the term "addictive personality," and many of us know individuals who are consistently more likely to take the extra drink or pill that puts them over the edge. But the specific balance of ...

Study examines blood markers, survival in patients with ALS

Jul 21, 2014

The blood biomarkers serum albumin and creatinine appear to be associated with survival in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and may help define prognosis in patients after they are diagnosed with the fatal ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JRDarby
not rated yet Oct 17, 2011
Mirror neurons?