Virtual caressing

Humans enjoy a good caress. It’s a very pleasant thing to be touched in a gentle and caring way. There is both a physical and emotional component to the caress, but could the emotional component be evoked without the physical element, or are they inextricably linked? This question was answered by a new study from the University of Gothenburgh.

In the experiment, subjects were given MRO scans to measure blood flow to the brain while they were being stroked either slowly or quickly with a brush. The brain reacted much more strongly to the slow strokes. This is not surprising really when you consider that slow stroking would make you feel cared for and nurtured while fast stroking might make you feel like a feature wall that needed a new colour.

What was interesting however, was that when the participants watched videos of another person being caressed their brain was activated just as quickly and as strongly as when they were being stroked themselves.

That means, you are able to feel the emotional meaning of a touch without feeling the touch yourself. However, when the subjects watched an inanimate object being stroked, their brain was not activated anywhere near as strongly.

So it seems that seeing is feeling, or at least, seeing is experiencing as far as your brain is concerned. On a social level this is probable useful as it allows you to feel and process what other people are going through; it is a form of physical empathy. For the individual it probably explains a few millennia of voyeurism, why sex sells, and why virtual reality games are so compelling.

Given the exponentially expanding technology that underlies virtual gaming and experiences, perhaps you will soon be able to do away with any real personal interaction at all, and you’ll get all the virtual affection that you need from your Whee-Box Play-Person Individualised Emotive Unit, otherwise known by the whimsical acronym “WBPPIEU”.

Then again, maybe the mystical diversity of the human spirit will never be able to be replicated no matter how many computer chips you put in a straight line…or is that just luddite thinking?

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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