redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Touch could help men and women with low self-confidence cope with their own mortality, according to researchers from VU University Amsterdam, who published a report in the latest edition of the journal Psychological Science.
As lead researcher and psychological scientist Sander Koole explains, all humans struggle with the concept that their time on this Earth will one day come to an end. Those who tend to be self-confident deal with their mortality by working hard to lead meaningful lives, while those with low self-esteem tend not to see their lives as anything special.
Koole’s research suggests that touch could help those individuals with low self-esteem deal with their own mortality. In fact, in a statement, the associate professor said that “even fleeting and seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch may help people to deal more effectively with existential concern.”
“This is important because we all have to deal with existential concerns and we all have times at which we struggle to find meaning in life,” Koole added. “Our findings show that people may still find existential security through interpersonal touch, even in the absence of symbolic meaning derived from religious beliefs or life values.”
The professor and his colleagues, Mandy Tjew-a-Sin and Iris K. Schneider (both of whom were also affiliated with VU University Amsterdam), conducted a series of studies examining whether or not individuals with low self-esteem dealt with existential concerns through their relationships with others.
In one study, an investigator approached participants as they walked through a college campus and gave each person a questionnaire to complete. Some of the people were given a light, open-palmed touch on the shoulder lasting about one second, and those individuals reportedly expressed less anxiety about their own deaths than those who had not received the physical contact.
Furthermore, touch also appeared to serve as a buffer against social alienation for those who were reminded of their eventual passing. Those with a lower sense of self-worth showed no decreased social connectedness after reminded of their mortality, but only if they were given a light touch, the researchers explain. The study suggests that those with low self-esteem may crave and potentially even seek out touch when faced with the issue of death.
“Our findings show that even touching an inanimate object – such as a teddy bear – can soothe existential fears,” Koole explained. “Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instill in people a sense of existential significance.”
He and his colleagues believe that the sensation of touch could be used alongside traditional cognitive therapy in treating those suffering from low self-esteem, anxiety, depression or related ailments – though they caution that the existential benefits of this approach could be limited by factors such as who or what is doing the touching. They are currently considering testing the effectiveness of a “haptic jacket” – a device that can electronically simulate the sensation of being hugged – to simulate the sensation of physical contact.