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: Researchers explore the source of empathy in the brain

Related Stories

Researchers explore the source of empathy in the brain

July 15, 2011
Your brain works hard to help understand your fellow person – no matter how different they may be.

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

May 26, 2011
Our brain's understanding of spatial awareness is not triggered by sight alone, scientists have found, in a development that could help design technology for the visually impaired.

Recommended for you

Faulty support cells disrupt communication in brains of people with schizophrenia

July 20, 2017
New research has identified the culprit behind the wiring problems in the brains of people with schizophrenia. When researchers transplanted human brain cells generated from individuals diagnosed with childhood-onset schizophrenia ...

Scientists discover combined sensory map for heat, humidity in fly brain

July 20, 2017
Northwestern University neuroscientists now can visualize how fruit flies sense and process humidity and temperature together through a "sensory map" within their brains, according to new research.

Scientists reveal how patterns of brain activity direct specific body movements

July 20, 2017
New research by Columbia scientists offers fresh insight into how the brain tells the body to move, from simple behaviors like walking, to trained movements that may take years to master. The discovery in mice advances knowledge ...

Team traces masculinization in mice to estrogen receptor in inhibitory neurons

July 20, 2017
Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have opened a black box in the brain whose contents explain one of the remarkable yet mysterious facts of life.

Speech language therapy delivered through the Internet leads to similar improvements as in-person treatment

July 20, 2017
Telerehabilitation helps healthcare professionals reach more patients in need, but some worry it doesn't offer the same quality of care as in-person treatment. This isn't the case, according to recent research by Baycrest.

New study reveals contrasts in how groups of neurons function during decision making

July 19, 2017
By training mice to perform a sound identification task in a virtual reality maze, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) have identified striking contrasts in how groups of neurons ...

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.