The Importance of Physical Touch


As humans, we crave a “haptic” response — the sensation from our fingers, hands, and bodies from physical touch.

Hug someone for at least 10 seconds

One of the easiest ways to get a serotonin boost (the ‘happiness’ hormone) is to hug someone for 10 seconds. Apparently the feeling of physical touch, intimacy, comfort, and love through the hugging — makes you feel safe, appreciated, and loved. This is all accomplished through this physical touch.

We are alienated from physical touch

I think the sad thing in the modern world is that there is a lack of physical touch. A lack of “haptic” responsiveness with our fingers, hands, and bodies.

Most traditional societies and cultures I have encountered do a lot of physical touch. A lot of hugging, hands on the shoulder, and embracing. In the West, we generally tend to shy away or frown on physical touch. It is seen as weird to hug someone you just met, or to place your hand (gently) on their shoulder.

But in reality, no matter what culture you’re from, or what your upbringing is — biologically we crave physical touch.

We need touch to thrive

Another thing I learned: babies which are touched a lot physically, grow up to be more courageous, bigger, and stronger. They did studies where monkeys were raised with physical touch, and without physical touch. The monkeys raised with physical touch grew up to be more confident, assertive, and bigger. The monkeys raised without physical touch were much smaller, anxious, and timid.

I’m not sure why this is — but I can say from my personal experience, the more I interact with people physically, the better my mood, and the closer I feel with others.

For example, I know that when meeting someone for the first time, even shaking their hand will quickly help me build a bond with them.

I know that even after I meet people for the first time, say goodbye, and give them a hug — I feel more connected with them.

Fist-bumps all around

When I’m even shooting street photography — I’ve found physical touch to be a huge advantage.

For example, when I approach a stranger that I want to photograph — I usually extend my hand (like about to give a handshake) and introduce myself. 99% of people shake my hand back. And once I ask for permission to make their portrait, they are much more likely to say “yes” (than if they didn’t shake my hand).

Similarly, after I’ve taken someone’s photo (with permission) I will give them a (gentle/subtle) hand on their shoulder or pat on the back, and I give them a huge smile and tell them: “thank you.” I always get a generous smile back, and also often another pat (on my back).

Physical touch in street photography

So if you want to shoot “street portraits” with permission — try to figure out ways you can incorporate more physical touch to your photography. Shake hands. Give high fives. Give fist-bumps (one of my favorites). Give a gentle pat on the back, or hand on the shoulder, while saying ‘thank you.’

Or even in candid photography — take a photo of someone with permission, then say “thank you” while gently touching their shoulder. I know this sounds weird, but it has worked with about 95% effectiveness (in a positive way) with me. I saw my friend Gareth Jones do it first in Amsterdam, and he had great success— and I stole the idea from him.

How to incorporate more physical touch into your life

And also in your personal life, see how you can incorporate more physical touch, to become closer to others, and more confident. Hug your kids more. Kiss your partner more. Embrace your friends and family.

Give strangers high-fives, fist-bumps, or introduce yourself by shaking their hand.

We all crave more physical touch (both sexually and non-sexually). But I would argue that sexual physical touch is a bit overrated and over-hyped in our society. Many of us just want some more non-sexual physical touch in our lives.

Apparently our skin is the biggest organ — and the sensation we get from physical touch or a “haptic” response is what makes us such precise creatures. The sensation we get from writing a hand-written letter, painting a picture, or clicking the shutter of our camera.

The more physical we are with others, the closer we will be with others (physically, emotionally, and spiritually).


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