THE POWER OF TOUCH
Do you know the largest organ in the human body? Hazard a guess. What is the largest human organ? I could almost bet the majority of you will be wrong. The largest human organ is the skin. In a grown man, it covers about 19 square feet and weighs over 3.5kg. A piece of skin the size of a small coin contains more than 3 million cells, 100 to 340 sweat glands, 50 nerve endings and 3 feet of blood vessels. The skin is a work of genius that sub serves many physiological functions ranging from acting as a protective barrier to external agents, to thermoregulation, and even excretion of waste products. Today I want us to examine one of the abilities our skins confer on us especially in our relation with others. Through series of studies we’ll be looking at the power of touch.
A study was done in the 1960s and I find the results fascinating. It showed a stark contrast between cultures by noting the number of touches exchanged by pairs of people sitting in coffee shops around the world: In San Juan, Puerto Rico, people touched a whooping 180 times an hour (i.e. 3 times a minute= every 20 seconds); in Paris, France, 110 times an hour; in Gainesville, Florida, 2 times per hour; and in London, England, they never touched! I am not aware of any such study done in our country, but I think culturally as a nation, we are “touch shy” people. Our culture looks with puckered brow at open expression of affection. I once asked a large group of young people I was leading then how many of them had ever heard their fathers tell their mothers spontaneously “I love you”. Only a tiny fraction had ever done so.
For example, from the moment of birth our physical sense is stimulated. Pushed out, picked up, and slapped on the bottom, we are placed at our mother’s breast, and a bonding process begins. This bonding process is further reinforced by the design of the infant care-giving process. It is by no means an accident that there is a lot of skin contact for the act of breast feeding. We are designed so that the infant care-giving process involves an enormous amount of contact. Touch is essential for optimal brain and psychological development. This has been demonstrated in both humans and animals.
I saw a documentary last year about the greatest carnivore of the open sea: The Great White Sharks. These creatures grow to be as long as 20 – 25 feet long and over 2,000kg in weight and can swallow things half their size! Their jaws (sic!) are massive. Yet I saw them mesmerized with touch! They went perfectly still as if in a trance. Just with a touch!
In a study with premature infants, half of the tiny babies, selected at random, were gently stroked for 45 minutes a day. The other half was not. Although all were fed the same amount of calories, after ten days, the touched babies weighed-in 47% heavier than the untouched group. Not only were those babies bigger, they were happier as well. The stroked kids were more active, more alert and more responsive to social stimulation.
Studies like this and others are challenging the practice of isolating premature babies in incubators and our cultural rule of no touching. It’s also the same in relationships, there are times when you need to connect on a different level, it’s not every time you will want to talk or go out to have fun. Sometimes, a long hug, a pat on the hair, a stroke of the face is all the connection you need. We need to be touched.
Now I am not asking you to go haywire and start grabbing anyone in sight. You might just receive a hot slap soon if you go about doing that. You have to respect people’s personal space.
As mentioned earlier Nigerians aren’t a big fan of touching, but it goes a long way when you connect with your partner through the simple act of touching. Some of us adjust well to open affections, some of us do not. However a balance can be reached. With all the above analysis, the art of touching is enough to keep the flame alive in your relationships.
Pass a little sunshine to someone today. Give a warm handshake to a stranger. Not a limp wave. Pat the back of a friend. Rub the head of your child. Lift him/her up. Give your spouse a warm, long unexpected hug. Pull the cheeks of a naughty friend. Cultivate the habit of meaningful impactful touch. Those touches of yours will add value to their lives.
Dr Gbenga Adebayo