Caresses enjoyable vicariously, too

October 17, 2011
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.

Explore further: Scans show it's not only sight that helps us get our bearings

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Closing the loop with optogenetics

August 28, 2015

An engineering example of closed-loop control is a simple thermostat used to maintain a steady temperature in the home. Without it, heating or air conditioning would run without reacting to changes in outside conditions, ...

Self-control saps memory, study says

August 26, 2015

You're driving on a busy road and you intend to switch lanes when you suddenly realize that there's a car in your blind spot. You have to put a stop to your lane change—and quickly.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JRDarby
not rated yet Oct 17, 2011
Mirror neurons?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.