The power of maternal touch

Touch is habitual and can sometimes be involuntary for many people; a casual stroke to express affection, or a hug to offer comfort. However, a study by NUS Psychology researchers has revealed that touch is a significant factor in the social development of young children between four and six years.

Conducted by a team supervised by NUS Psychology Associate Professor Annett Schirmer, this is the first such study to focus on the relationship between touch and social development in children older than infants. The results were published in Cerebral Cortex and Cognitive Development in August and July respectively.

The study involved 39 mother-child pairs in play for 10 minutes, during which the number of times the mother intentionally reached out to touch her child was counted. After the play session, the children were asked to complete two different tasks.

The first task was a social distraction test, in which the children had to identify the position of a geometric shape while pictures of faces or houses — social and non-social stimuli respectively, were present as distractors. The second task explored emotion recognition, where they were asked to identify the emotion depicted in a set of Asian faces.

Read more