19/07/22 – The Impact of Touch

APPG member Professor Francis McGlone, Professor of Neuroscience at John Moores University, Liverpool, writes about some interesting research stemming from his earlier findings on the importance of touch on the developing brain.

People may be wary of reports that rely on animal research but this study I did with a colleague in Valparaiso is one of the most interesting I have done when it comes to proving how vital a particular type of touch is to stress regulation – and if you can’t regulate stress it opens the door to all manner of physical and mental adverse health conditions.

In a nutshell, one group of rats were gently stroked for just 10 min/day at the CT stimulus velocity (~5 cm/sec) and another group were stroked at a non-CT velocity (~30 cm/sec). So if you like one group had the ‘active drug’ and the other the ‘placebo’. We had control groups as well. This 10 mins of daily stroking was carried out over 2 weeks, during which the animals were exposed to a chronic mild stress paradigm (noise, lights, smell of cats! etc – a busy 2 weeks….). We then tested them on a range of classic stress tests – open field, elevated maze, social situation, swimming etc. and importantly we also measured cortisol – a key marker of stress. The animals that received just 10 mins/day of slow and gentle CT touch completely aced the stress tests – they were RESILIENT to stress!

Our aim now, and of direct relevance to the APPG’s mission, is to replicate this study using primary school children in local schools in Liverpool.  One class will be trained in peer-to-peer touch at CT velocities (as pioneered by the wonderful Jean Barlow), and another class will get fast non-CT touch. And we will measure salivary cortisol in response to the children being given a spelling test or something similar.

If this research works it will provide incontrovertible evidence that social touch (CT touch) – as occurs during play by the way – is as important for a child’s neurodevelopment as say, Vitamin C – I have dubbed this type of touch ‘Vitamin T’!  and see this as the 21st century version of what we lived though as kids where we were all given free school milk to help our physical development to now help our mental development.

The growing field of epigenetics is proving just how vital early life nurturing touch experiences are in shaping – or misshaping – a child’s and future adults brain/mind.  If the research can identify causative mechanisms underpinning the increase in mental health conditions in our children then we can ‘turn off the tap’ that’s causing them  – the long term mental health benefits as well as the financial benefits of not needing as many therapists will be significant.

Read more: Neuroscience of Play and Paper on Stress Resilience