ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

心理科学进展 ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (2): 324-332.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.00324

• 研究前沿 • 上一篇    下一篇


杨廙, 李东, 崔倩(), 蒋重清()   

  1. 辽宁师范大学心理学院, 大连 116029
  • 收稿日期:2021-04-25 出版日期:2022-02-15 发布日期:2021-12-24
  • 通讯作者: 崔倩,蒋重清;
  • 基金资助:

Affective function of touch and the neurophysiological mechanism

YANG Yi, LI Dong, CUI Qian(), JIANG Zhongqing()   

  1. College of Psychology, Liaoning Normal University, Dalian 116029, China
  • Received:2021-04-25 Online:2022-02-15 Published:2021-12-24
  • Contact: CUI Qian,JIANG Zhongqing;


触觉是个体探知外部世界的重要感觉通道, 其情绪功能在维系社会联结、促进人际沟通等方面具有重要作用。触觉的情绪功能一方面表现为通过触觉动作本身直接传递情绪信息, 另一方面则是通过增强注意和锐化社会评价的方式促进个体对跨通道情绪信息的加工。神经生理学研究发现, 触觉情绪信息由无髓鞘C纤维介导, 经脊髓丘脑束通路投射于岛叶(头面部触觉情绪信息的传导路径尚不明确), 并在杏仁核、内侧前额叶、后颞上沟等“社会脑”网络的核心区域被精细加工。未来还应对触觉情绪的人际依赖性、文化独特性、操作标准化, 及其在神经水平上与感觉-辨识系统间的关联性与独立性做深入探究。

关键词: 人际触觉, C触觉, 情绪, 跨通道, 神经生理机制


Touch is an important sensory channel for individuals to explore the external world in everyday life. The sense of touch helps us to discriminate the location of a stimulus on the skin surface, to identify the shape, size and texture of objects. However, touch can also be affective. The motivational-affective dimension of touch is involved in coding its valence and motivational relevance. This aspect of tactile sensation plays an important role in maintaining social bonding and promoting interpersonal communication.

The affective function of interpersonal touch can be achieved through unimodal presentations or multimodal information integration processing. That is, tactile action itself, either a strong handshake or a tender hug, can directly convey emotions. Although the accuracy of decoding six basic emotions (anger, fear, happiness, sadness, disgust, and surprise) from interpersonal touch are slightly less than from the facial expression and vocal information, interpersonal touch has advantages in conveying social emotions such as "love", "gratitude" and "sympathy". Such advantages reflect the important significance of affective touch in establishing social bonding and promoting cooperative relationships. Further more, the affective meaning and social attributes carried by interpersonal touch can provide social background for emotion of other modal (e.g., visual or auditory) information processing, so as to enhance participants’ attention and to sharpen their social evaluation of emotional cues.

Compared with sensory-discriminative subsystem, the motivational-affective subsystem has a special neurophysiological mechanism. For example, C-tactile (CT) afferents are strongly implicated as the neurobiological substrate underlying the affective property of touch. CTs, a class of slowly conducting mechanoreceptors, are specially tuned to the properties of human physical contact. They fire maximally to skin-temperature, light-pressure stroking at a rate of 1-10 cm per s. C-tactile-mediated affective tactile stimulation project in spinothalamic tract (STT) pathway (the spinal signaling of orofacial C-fiber mediated affective touch is still unclear), bypass the primary somatosensory cortex, directly project to the insular cortex, and then process in the amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) and other core areas of the “social brain” neural network. In addition, evidence from EEG research shows that, beta oscillation at parietal scalp sites, may be related to the affective representation of tactile stimuli, and theta oscillation at frontal, parietal, temporal, occipital scalp sites, may reflect an attentional-emotional regulatory mechanism of affective touch.

Another complex facet of touch is that, affective touch would be complicated by its inextricable links to context, gender and sexuality, culture, and other individual, interpersonal, and societal factors. Moreover, learned from the previous research on facial emotion perception, a considerable body of work about affective touch are also around the topic of coding-decoding of basic emotions, so that the results fail to fully reveal the specificity of tactile channel in transmitting social emotions. Therefore, we should pay more attention to top-down contextual factors in the future researches, such as personal relationship, cultural difference, and social context, that may influence how to define and interpret the emotion and motivation of interpersonal touch. Meanwhile, although the time course of emotional touch perception was explored with electrophysiological measures, however no clear index has been identified till now. In addition, in order to reveal the relevance and independence between the sensory-discriminative and motivational-affective subsystems, such as activation likelihood estimate (ALE) meta-analysis and meta-analytic connectivity modeling (MACM) analysis can be used to reveal the cortical functional neuroanatomy supporting a distinction between affective and discriminative touch.

Key words: interpersonal touch, C-tactile, emotion, cross-modality, neurophysiological mechanism