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For example, joy is the only positive emotion that has been reliably decoded in studies of the face.
Meanwhile, his research shows that touch can communicate positive emotions: joy, love, gratitude, and sympathy.
We begin receiving tactile signals even before birth, as the vibration of our mother's heartbeat is amplified by amniotic fluid.
No wonder then that touch plays a critical role in parent-child relationships from the start: "It's an essential channel of communication with caregivers for a child," says San Diego State University School of Communication emeritus professor Peter Andersen, author of A mother's touch enhances attachment between mother and child; it can signify security ("You're safe; I'm here") and, depending on the type of touch, it can generate positive or negative emotions.
Unsurprisingly, subjects rated the experience of male touch as less pleasant. The results were startling, because the primary somatosensory cortex had been thought to encode only basic qualities of touch, such as smoothness or pressure."The entire experience is affected by your social evaluation of the person touching you." If touch is a language, it seems we instinctively know how to use it. When asked about it, the subjects in Hertenstein's studies consistently underestimated their ability to communicate via touch—even while their actions suggested that touch may in fact be more versatile than voice, facial expression, and other modalities for expressing emotion."With the face and voice, in general we can identify just one or two positive signals that are not confused with each other," says Hertenstein.Yet until recently, the idea that people can impart and interpret emotional content via another nonverbal modality—touch—seemed iffy, even to researchers, such as De Pauw University psychologist Matthew Hertenstein, who study it.In 2009, he demonstrated that we have an innate ability to decode emotions via touch alone.
(Playing pat-a-cake makes infants happy, while a sudden squeeze from Mom often signals a warning not to interact with a new object).