Tactile or somatosensory system is a sensory system that detects impulses, which are usually triggered by sensation of pressure, temperature (hot or cold), and pain (including itching and tickling sensations), as well as proprioception, which is the mode that helps to assess spatial positioning.
Sense of touch is considered one of the traditional five senses but does not a clear-cut concept. When you talk about senses that include touch, pressure and temperature as well as pain, it means that the sensation is a collective expression of many stimuli.
Sensory impressions are recorded by the sensory cells in the skin, muscles, joints, tendons, and in the internal organs and are transferred to the brain through the nervous system. Pain is recorded by so-called free nerve endings.
Sensory cells number and thus the sensitivity varies greatly across the body. The fingertips are sensitive areas while the back is relatively free of sensory cells.
Each sensor records only one kind of sensation but the brain receives impulses through the same nerve cells.
Sensory impressions are usually divided into four subgroups, which excite various types of receptors.
All observations show that the somesthetic stimulations, which have physiological, psychological, and behavioural effects, appear to be a true developmental and functional necessity in mammals.
In primates, the removal of somesthetic stimuli, particularly during childhood, causes of many mental and behavioural disorders (with cynomolgus rhesus deprived of physical contact during the first six postnatal months).
In humans, the removal of somesthetic stimuli, along with the removal of vestibular stimuli, is likely the main factor at the origin of hospitalism and psychosocial dwarfism syndrome: growth delayed, disturbed psychomotor and intellectual development, sadness, motor inhibition or agitation, auto aggressive behaviour and compulsive swaying.
Moreover, the results of a comparative study between several pre-industrial societies seem to show that the deprivation of somesthetic hedonic stimuli (somatosensory pleasure deprivation) would cause, directly and indirectly, negative behavioral and social effects: probability of physical abuse and a low level of affection towards children, likelihood of a lower status of women, probability of war, torture and slavery and probability of religious activity with rather cruel and aggressive deities.
In contrast, the regular stimulation of the somatosensory system produces many positive physiological, psychological, and behavioural effects.
For example, observed in infants:
- a weight gain of 47%, with the same amount of food;
- an improvement in the body orientation and motor activity;
- decreased the length of hospital stay, in the case of peri-natales pathologies.
And in the adult:
- a better cytotoxic capacity of the immune system;
- a decrease in hormones of stress (cortisol and noradrenaline);
- a decrease in the level of anxiety;
- a decrease in depressive state;
- an increase of the quality of sleep;
- a better attentional and cognitive level;
- facilitation of interpersonal attachment…
Finally, on a more general level, it is observed that primates are animals of contact (they continually stimulate their somatosensory system), and that somesthetiv is a major factor of affection, sexuality, and socialization.
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