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Depression severity is associated with reduced pleasantness of observed social touch and fewer current intimate touch experiences

Tinker, VC, Trotter, PD and Krahé, C (2023) Depression severity is associated with reduced pleasantness of observed social touch and fewer current intimate touch experiences. PLOS ONE, 18 (8).

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Depression is associated with loss of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities and withdrawal from social interactions. Depression alters the perception of social cues, but it is currently unclear whether this extends to social touch. In the current cross-sectional study, we explored the association between depression severity, perceived pleasantness of observed social touch, and general longing for touch. For observed touch, we contrasted videos of slow touch (1-10cm/s), which optimally activates C tactile afferent nerve fibres and generally feels pleasant, with ‘non-CT-optimal’ touch (i.e., outside the 1-10cm/s range, commonly rated more neutral). We predicted that greater depression severity would be related to lower pleasantness ratings specifically for CT-optimal touch, and less longing for touch. <jats:italic>N</jats:italic> = 226 adults completed self-report measures of depression severity and longing for touch, and rated touch pleasantness for six videos depicting social touch at three velocities (3cm/s in the CT-optimal range, 0.5 and 30cm/s outside this range) and at two locations varying in CT innervation (palm vs. arm). We controlled for general anhedonia and individual differences in touch experiences and attitudes. Across touch locations, greater depression severity was associated with lower perceived pleasantness of touch, especially for the fastest non-CT-optimal (rather than the CT-optimal) velocity, contrary to our prediction. However, when grouping participants into probable vs. no/minimal depression, the probable depression group rated <jats:italic>both</jats:italic> the fastest non-CT-optimal and the CT-optimal velocity as less pleasant than did the no/minimal depression group. Overall, while depression was associated with perceived pleasantness of observed touch, this was not specific to CT-optimal touch. Furthermore, touch longing was not associated with depression severity. Instead, variance in depression symptoms was better explained by reduced levels of current intimate touch. Though the direction of causality is unclear, greater depression severity is related to lower pleasantness of observed social touch, and lower levels of current intimate touch.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: General Science & Technology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Divisions: Psychology (from Sep 2019)
Publisher: Public Library of Science (PLoS)
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2023 08:33
Last Modified: 04 Aug 2023 08:33
DOI or ID number: 10.1371/journal.pone.0289226
Editors: Hensel, DJ
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/20636
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