New Study Reconfirms the Benefits of Touch

Researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis of more than 200 published studies that explored touch interventions. Their goal was to “identify critical factors moderating touch intervention efficacy” that would help maximize the benefits of future hands-on interventions. Published in the April 8, 2024, issue of Nature Human Behaviour, the study found that touch interventions were effective in helping regulate cortisol levels, increasing weight in newborns, and reducing pain, feelings of depression, and anxiety in adults.

Many of the studies included in the systematic review are from researchers familiar to the massage community: Tiffany Field, Maria Hernandez-Reif, Cynthia Kuhn, and Miguel Diego, to name a few. To be included in the review, studies had to feature a touch versus no-touch control. The study’s researchers said while “previous meta-analyses on this topic exist, they were limited in scope, focusing only on particular types of touch, cohorts, or specific health outcomes.”

What the researchers found in this latest study was not surprising: touch is beneficial for both physical and mental health. Some of the specific findings from the meta-analysis include:

  • Touch interventions reduce pain, depression, and anxiety in adults.
  • Touch helps increase weight in newborns.
  • Frequency of touch is more important than which kind of touch intervention is applied.
  • Increasing duration of touch exposures did not improve health effects, and in some cases showed negative relationships.
  • Non-human touch (robots/objects) is less effective in improving mental health than human touch.

The findings are in agreements with previous meta-analyses, however, researchers noted that it is “essentially impossible” in touch interventions to blind toward the experimental condition. “Although we compared the touch intervention with other interventions, such as relaxation therapy, as control whenever possible, contributions of placebo effects cannot be ruled out,” researchers said.

“We show clear evidence that touch interventions are beneficial across a large number of both physical and mental health outcomes, for both healthy and clinical cohorts, and for all ages,” researchers said. “These benefits . . . were robustly present, promoting the conclusion that touch interventions can be systemically employed across the population to preserve and improve our health.”

To read the full study, go to



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