The Importance of Touch: Understanding Touch Starvation and Its Impact

In a world increasingly dominated by virtual interactions and social distancing, the concept of “touch starvation” or “skin hunger” has garnered significant attention. Human touch, an essential component of our development and emotional well-being, has been extensively studied, revealing its profound impact from the earliest stages of life.

The Science Behind Touch Starvation

Touch starvation refers to the psychological and physiological effects of receiving little to no physical touch from others. This condition can lead to a variety of negative health outcomes, including increased stress, anxiety, depression and even weakened immune function. Research published on PubMed highlights how essential physical touch is to human health, noting its role in reducing cortisol levels (a stress hormone) and promoting the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone”.

The Role of Amniotic Fluid in Foetal Development

From the very beginning of life, the sensation of touch plays a critical role. The amniotic fluid surrounding a foetus not only protects and cushions the developing baby but also provides a continuous sensory experience. This gentle pressure and movement create a comforting environment that is believed to be fundamental for sensory development. Studies indicate that this early exposure to tactile stimulation helps in the formation of the nervous system and can influence sensory processing abilities later in life.

The Impact of Touch on Orphaned Children

The importance of touch extends beyond infancy. Landmark studies on orphans and children in institutional settings have shown the detrimental effects of touch deprivation. Children who were not picked up, cuddled or touched regularly displayed severe developmental delays, both physically and emotionally. One pivotal study found that children in orphanages who lacked sufficient physical contact had stunted growth, cognitive delays and increased behavioural problems compared to those who received regular tactile stimulation.

Renowned psychologist Harry Harlow’s experiments with rhesus monkeys further underscored the importance of touch. Harlow’s studies revealed that infant monkeys preferred to cling to a soft, cloth-covered surrogate mother rather than a wire mother that provided food. This preference for comfort and touch over nourishment highlighted the intrinsic need for physical affection for healthy emotional development.


The need for touch is deeply embedded in our biology. From the comforting pressure of the amniotic fluid in the womb to the essential bonding between caregiver and child, physical touch is crucial for healthy development and emotional well-being. As society navigates the challenges posed by increased virtual interaction and social distancing, recognising and addressing touch starvation becomes imperative. Ensuring regular, positive physical contact can help mitigate the negative effects of touch deprivation, promoting better mental health and overall quality of life.

By understanding the profound effects of touch on human development and well-being, we can better appreciate the importance of maintaining physical connections in our increasingly digital world.