Previous research has shown that loving touches from a parent can help babies construct a mental picture of their body, which can help them formulate a sense of self.
Now, new research shows that a parent’s touch could also help children become better at interacting with others.
In a study, published in the August issue of Cerebral Cortex, researchers found that the frequency with which mothers touched their 5-year-old children was linked to the development of kids’ “social brains.”
To reach this finding, researchers observed children as they played with their mothers, taking careful note of how often kids were touched by their moms.
After checking in with participants two days later, researchers noticed more activity in the “social brains" of kids who had been touched more often by mom. (Social brains are to thank for our successful social interactions, as well as our empathy and interest in other people.)
"There is already a substantial literature looking at the postive effects of touch in infants," researcher Annett Shirmer, a psychologist at the University of Singapore, told the Huffington Post. "Our work adds by showing a relation specifically to the social brain ... and extending this to an older age group, suggesting that benefits exist beyond infancy."
Touching your child’s back, specifically, might help children become even better at socializing, since the back of the body is where a majority of nerve fibers known as c-tactile afferents are located.
What’s so special about these nerves? They're where affectionate touches embark on their journey to a person’s brain, the Huffington Post explains. Caressing a child’s back may send the strongest signals to kids' brains, which could lead to an even stronger set of social skills.
C-tactile afferents respond best to slow touch and strokes. In animal studies, a number of positive hormonal effects are triggered when these nerves are activated by gentle, affectionate touch.