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Science of Hand Holding: Viva la Revolucion!

“…Hold my hand and we’re halfway there Hold my hand and I’ll take you there, Somehow, someday, somewhere.” Westside Story, ‘Somewhere’

I am a person who very much craves real human interaction. Sorry (not sorry), but texting just doesn’t cut it for this girl! I do have to agree that technology has improved communication, but it has also damaged people’s real ability to socially engage with one another. Have you ever tried to hold a conversion with someone face to face and realize it is so awkward? We don’t know how to simply converse anymore. It is an art form to converse. We are also very anti-touch and need our “personal space”. We don’t want to be touched or bothered. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a contributing factor to depression or other anxiety disorders. I feel happier when someone gives me a hug! It makes me want to go up to strangers and give them freely a hug. You know that too could get a little awkward, as some people just don’t know how to receive them. Well all of this got me thinking about the good ole days. When the most intimate of PDA’s was simply hand holding! This was all pre-sexual revolution of course.

When is the last time you held hands with someone? For me, it has been a while. The very thought of handholding brings so much to mind!

When we were on the playground in grade school, we played the game Red Rover.

Kids holding hands and jumping

Red Rover forms two teams in two lines across from one another and you have to hold your teammates hands. The strength and bonding of your hand allows for a protective barrier as for a member of the other team not to break you. You are standing in a line next to your friends and holding your hands. I am pretty sure that you never thought twice about it. Well, unless you were standing by the kid that picks his nose regularly, but that is beside the point.

Handholding carries so much meaning for such a simple gesture. Handholding can be used to comfort, encourage, protect, show affection, and to alleviate any fear or discomfort. It can be used to help alleviate pain and to show that you are on the receiving persons team. “You are not alone!” Such a simple gesture can have so many positive benefits socially, emotionally and of course physically speaking.

Social Contexts

“Handholding is the one aspect that’s not been affected by the sexual revolution,” said Dalton Conley, a professor and chairman of the department of sociology at New York University. “It’s less about sex than about a public demonstration about coupledom.” Source

Drawing of hand holding

At the very least, hand holding socially speaking identifies a couple. It is the most basic innocent sign of affection and is appropriate for almost any general public outing or in a social setting in a casual fashion. To hold someone’s hand is to offer them affection, protection or comfort. It is a way to communicate that you are off the market.

“Practically speaking, it is an efficient way to squeeze through a crowd without losing your partner. People do it during vigils, marches, weddings and funerals.”

There was a social experiment that was conducted this winter in an effort to bring back good old human interaction as well as advertise for Duracell Battery. Remember our good friend (heavy on the sarcasm) Polar Vortex? Well Duracell Battery created a bus shelter in the very chilly Montreal Canada. They created the bus shelter with an interior heater that was uniquely identified with a display looking like their Quantum line of battery. There is a catch to activating the heater however. In order to allow the heater to run it needed human connection to be activated! Choosing to connect with a stranger was worth the heat that this bus hut provided. I believe this was a positive attempt to connect others in a different and unique way. Perfect strangers working together for joint heat all through holding another’s hand. Brilliant!

Emotional Benefits

Science has proven that holding someone’s hand significantly reduces fear, pain, and loneliness. There have been studies showing that handholding can calm edgy neurons. In one study, neuroscientists from University of Wisconsin and University of Virginia advertised via newspaper advertisement for a need to recruit 16 couples in the Madison, Wisconsin region. Once all couples were filled, the couples were rated on several notes: happiness, likes and dislikes, intimacy, coping styles, and mutual interests. They were asked to complete a questionnaire.

Each woman was told that they would be periodically be shocked at their ankle to which they were visibly apprehensive. They measured the results using an MRI machine. The images showed brain activity which reflected the apprehensive and nervous nature. They also showed heightened activity in the parts of the brain involved in anticipating pain, heightening physical arousal, and managing negative emotions among other body systems. The moment the woman felt the touch of her husband’s hand, these activities significantly decreased. The activity also decreased some with a stranger holding their hand, but not as significantly as that of their husband.

“The effect of this simple gesture of social support is that the brain and body don’t have to work as hard, they’re less stressed in response to a threat,”said Dr. James A. Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and the study’s lead author.

Physical Benefits

In the same study as mentioned above, it also addressed the body’s physical response to anticipation of threats and anticipated pain. When we are faced with a dangerous situation or what we perceive to be a threat, our body is really reacting. Our brains release messages of preparation out to the systems of the body. This causes hormones to be released, an increase of heart beating and blood flow which also can allow us to feel anxious about the impending threat. We might be so anxious as to sweat or experience clammy palms. In these certain cases, having easy access to affection can be deeply soothing and can alleviate those initial body responses. A hug, someone to hold your hand, or even to rub your back are all positive ways to relieve this.

The most profound result of this study showed that the couples that scored highest in their rating reflected that they were very close. The brain matter they examined that was associated with the anticipation of pain was extremely sensitive to this marital quality. This suggests that the marital value had a positive reflection that their partners touch can drastically decrease the physical pain and lower the anticipation feeling when knowing they will experience pain. Interesting, ehh?

Moods and Overall Health

Holding hands in the purest form is a basic sign of intimacy. Research has shown that receiving and giving forms of physical love (not sex) such as hand holding is very positive on your moods and over all health.

Our body’s initial response when given physical affection is to release the hormone oxytocin. Our brain directs the hypothalamus to release it as a natural reaction. In addition to making us feel good, it also lowers the stress hormones in your body, decreases your blood pressure and positively influences your mood. That is really powerful when you think of just how stressful our lives really are!

Over all hand holding had so many positive benefits. It amazed me at the research and studies which demonstrate there is a direct and positive affect to holding hands. Who would have thought something so simply could be so beneficial? I surely didn’t realize it.

What do you say we start a revolution? Why not start holding hands more often! You know….if the opportunity presents itself…and they presumable opposite party consents. I say (in my best french-ish accent) with my arm raised in the air, “VIVA LA REVOLUCION!”

Peace, love, and happy hand holding!

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