Being touched pleasantly may contribute to our sense of ownership over our bodies, according to new research from University College London and the University of Hertfordshire.
The study of 49 right-handed women used the rubber hand illusion, a common way for psychology experiments to test a person's sense of bodily ownership. The participant watches a fake rubber hand being touched while, out of sight, that person's hand is touched in exactly the same way, causing the person to think the fake hand is her own. In this experiment, the researchers found a slow, light caress (from a Boots natural hair Blush Brush No. 7, in case you wondered) on the rubber hand was not only rated more pleasant than faster strokes, but it also made subjects more likely to believe the illusion--to think the fake hand was their own.
The speed of the stroking was carefully measured; slow meant 3 centimeters per second, while fast meant 18 centimeters per second.
The researchers suggest that physical affection might help people develop a sense of self. "As affective touch is typically received from a loved one, these findings further highlight how close relationships involve behaviors that may play a crucial role in the construction of a sense of self," author Laura Crucianelli said.
"We provide the first, direct evidence that the perception of specialized interoceptive signals [like these slow touches] from the skin play an important role in both feelings and judgments of body ownership," the researchers write in the paper. Interoception is the sense of the body's physiological condition. "To the extent that the sense of body ownership is considered a fundamental aspect of self- consciousness, these findings provide support for the idea that interoception lies at the basis of the embodied psychological 'self'."
Since the study only looked at women, the findings will need to be expanded to look at how gender might play a role. The researchers also suggest future studies might compare hairy vs. non-hairy skin, since that could affect how pleasant the strokes feel (these arms were hairy). So science confirms: slow, light and hairy is the way to go.
The full study is published in Frontiers in Psychology.