New research proposes that touch could help us bridge dividesby Steph Singer and Mirko Farina / October 24, 2018 / Leave a comment
In December 2009, the Guardian claimed that “real loneliness can do serious damage.” In January 2011, the BBC pronounced loneliness a “hidden killer” of the elderly. In December 2017, New York Times asserted that “loneliness leads to poorer physical and mental health”.
Several psychological studies have also demonstrated that loneliness is associated with an increase in the risk of premature mortality. They say that income, education, sex, and ethnicity are not protective, and that the condition is contagious.
According to a recent Community Life Survey 2017-2018 and to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 6 per cent of adults in England—one in 20—report feeling lonely “often” or “always.” 15 per cent reported feeling lonely “sometimes” and 24 per cent “occasionally.”
Younger adults—those aged 16 to 24 years—reported feeling lonely more often than those in older age groups.
Loneliness is a widespread social issue in our country. The UK recently announced the development of a strategy to alleviate loneliness in response to the report of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness (pdf). As part of this, the prime minister requested that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) develop a national measure of loneliness.
The ONS is now working with a cross-government group of charities, academics and other stakeholders to review the measurement of loneliness. They are expected to publish their recommendations later this year.
The causes of loneliness are varied and include many different social, mental, emotional, and physical factors. But there is one potentially major cause of our loneliness epidemic that has received relatively little attention: lack of touch.
Touch is often put at the bottom of the sensory table; yet touch is an “index sense” that magnificently represents the value of human sensitivity.
According to Professor Constance Classen of Condordia University, a cultural historian specializing in the History of the Senses, touch “reveals the ways in which sensations shaped our collective cultural values.”
We experience touch every day, whether we are sitting on a seat on the tube, feeling our clothes against our skin, or holding our mug of hot tea. Touch influences what we buy, who we love and even how we heal.
Touch is one of the senses most adept at developing physical connection and intimacy with the world outside of ourselves. Newborns require a mother’s touch to thrive, and romantic relationships are cemented via touch.
Touch also allows us to build trust, intimacy, and…