Amelia Defalco (Medical Humanities) and India Morrison (Neuroscience) provide an overview of how human social, emotional touch may have emerged from multiple brain mechanisms governing attachment and physical closeness between individuals. Mammalian brains have tweaked and elaborated these mechanisms in various ways, each driven by a fundamental problem: how to keep physically unattached bodies, such as those of parents and offspring, from straying too far away from each other.
Social touch solves this problem by triggering and maintaining emotionally mediated bonds, invigorating our desires to “stay” or “return,” and evoking feeling states ranging from the contentment of being close to the agony of separation. In the human brain, neural signals of affective touch are likely even integrated into semantic pathways that generate language and meaning. Through these brain-level processes, our skin becomes a touch-operated curtain to emotional intimacy — at times protecting us, at times opening us to the minds of others.
About the speakers
Amelia DeFalco is University Academic Fellow in Medical Humanities in the School of English, University of Leeds and co-director of the Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities. She is author of Uncanny Subjects: Aging in Contemporary Narrative (Ohio State University Press 2010), Imagining Care: Responsibility, Dependency, and Canadian Literature (University of Toronto Press 2016), along with essays on contemporary cultural representations of ageing, disability, gender, care and the posthuman. Her current book project, Curious Kin: Fictions of Posthuman Care, investigates representations of nonhuman care in literature, film, and television.
India Morrison is an Associate Professor at the Center for Social and Affective Neuroscience, in the Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine at Linköping University, Sweden. She has published numerous scientific research articles on the brain correlates of “affective somatosensation” — the emotional aspects of pain and touch and their extensions in the social realm. Her current experimental research focuses on the multiple, interacting brain mechanisms that give rise to unified subjective experiences of emotion during social touch.
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