Comforting touch involves contact distress-alleviating behaviors of an observer towards the suffering of a target. A growing number of studies have investigated the effects of touch on pain attenuation, focusing on the (toucher), the target (comforted) or both. Here we synthesize findings of brain mechanisms underlying comforting touch in the target and toucher to propose an integrative brain model for understanding how touch attenuates distress. Building on evidence from the pain and distress literatures, our model applies interchangeably to pain and distress regulation. We describe comforting touch as a feedback-loop that begins with distress experienced by the target, triggering an empathic response in the toucher which in turn reduces distress in the target. This cycle is mediated by interactions between the neural circuits associated with touch perception, shared distress, emotion regulation and reward as well as brain-to-brain coupling in the observation-execution system. We conclude that formulating a model of comforting touch offers a mechanistic framework for understanding the effects of touch as well as other social interactions involving social support.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation Grant 2015068 .
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd
- Brain-to-brain coupling
- Observation-execution system
- Reward system
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Behavioral Neuroscience