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Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2019 Feb;35:5-11. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2018.04.009. Epub 2018 Apr 24.

Social touch and human development.

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Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Nashville, TN, USA; Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Human Development, Nashville, TN, USA. Electronic address:
Liverpool John Moores University, School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool, UK.
Liverpool John Moores University, School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool, UK; University of Liverpool, Institute of Psychology Health & Society, Liverpool, UK.


Social touch is a powerful force in human development, shaping social reward, attachment, cognitive, communication, and emotional regulation from infancy and throughout life. In this review, we consider the question of how social touch is defined from both bottom-up and top-down perspectives. In the former category, there is a clear role for the C-touch (CT) system, which constitutes a unique submodality that mediates affective touch and contrasts with discriminative touch. Top-down factors such as culture, personal relationships, setting, gender, and other contextual influences are also important in defining and interpreting social touch. The critical role of social touch throughout the lifespan is considered, with special attention to infancy and young childhood, a time during which social touch and its neural, behavioral, and physiological contingencies contribute to reinforcement-based learning and impact a variety of developmental trajectories. Finally, the role of social touch in an example of disordered development -autism spectrum disorder-is reviewed.


Affective; Autism; CT afferents; Development; Discriminative; Social; Tactile; Touch

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