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Handshakes and hugs: why the science of touch is essential to our wellbeing

Michael Banissy, Professor and Head of Psychological Science at the University of Bristol

Professor Michael Banissy Thomas S.G. Farnetti/Wellcome Collection

Book cover for 'When we touch' by Professor Michael Banissy

'When we touch' book cover Orion Spring

Press release issued: 28 March 2023

Why is a hugged person a healthier person? How does a shared handshake make you more likely to tell the truth? University of Bristol social neuroscientist, Professor Michael Banissy, one of the foremost experts on touch, explores the fascinating new science of one of our most overlooked senses in 'When we touch', published this week [30 March].

From the moment we are born, touch is central to our development and wellbeing, yet we live in a world where relationships are increasingly remote and touchless. 

Inspired by 'touch hunger' — a modern epidemic in our distanced world, Professor Banissy draws on one of the world’s largest studies across 112 countries to understand what touch means, how it impacts our wellness and why it is essential for healthy development.

Professor Banissy said: "Touch is one of our most overlooked senses, we rarely take notice of it, but we rely on it every day of our lives to help us connect with those around us.

"The bonds that touch helps us build and maintain are important. Research has shown that sharing supportive touch can buffer against stress and anxiety, reduce pain, lower blood pressure, and even boost our immune system.

"Even the briefest touch, like a gentle pat on the shoulder or a handshake, can profoundly impact our emotions and decision-making processes. These subtle forms of touch can influence a range of social behaviours, like building trust and promoting cooperation.

"From exploring the role of touch in relationships and wellness to uncovering the neural mechanisms behind why caring touch feels good, research is increasingly staking up to show that touch matters. It has revealed the nuanced nature of our sense of touch and shed light on the importance of touch in our daily lives. We know that touch is something that affects us all – yet it is more powerful and complex than we might first think."

When we touch by Professor Michael Banissy is published on 30 March 2023 by Orion Spring.

Further information

About Michael Banissy
Michael Banissy is an award-winning Professor and Head of the School of Psychological Science at the University of Bristol. An expert in social interactions and relationships, Michael has worked as a social neuroscientist for over ten years, producing over 100 publications that have been featured in many media outlets worldwide. He studies affection, communication, empathy, sleep, and touch. Michael has received awards from the British Psychological Society and the European Society of Cognitive Psychology for outstanding contributions to psychological research. He has also been recognised for his engagement with the public and industry. Michael appears regularly on the BBC and has been featured across various outlets, including Cosmopolitan, ESPN, National Public Radio, Scientific American, The Times, Vice, and many more. He is also part of the Royal Society Industry Fellows College and commonly works with organisations to apply psychological science in the workplace.

When We Touch is Michael's first book - learn more at

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