Social and affective touch in primates and its role in the evolution of social cohesion

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Abstract

Primates are long-lived, highly social mammals who maintain long-term social bonds and cohesive social groups through many affiliative mechanisms, foremost among them social touch. From birth through adulthood, social touch – primarily mutual grooming – creates and maintains relationships of trust and reliance, which are the basis for individual physical and emotional well-being and reproductive success. Because social touch helps to establish, maintain, and repair social alliances in primates, it contributes to the emotional stability of individuals and the cohesion of social groups. In these fundamental ways, thus, social touch supports the slow life histories of primates. The reinforcing neurochemistry of social touch insures that it is a pleasurable activity and this, in turn, makes it a behavioral commodity that can be traded between primates for desirable rewards such as protection against future aggression or opportunities to handle infants. Social touch is essential to normal primate development, and individuals deprived of social touch exhibit high levels of anxiety and lower fertility compared to those receiving regular social touch. Understanding the centrality of social touch to primate health and well-being throughout the lifespan provides the foundation for appreciating the importance of social touch in human life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-125
Number of pages9
JournalNeuroscience
Volume464
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)

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