Defining pleasant touch stimuli: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Abstract

Pleasantness is generally overlooked when investigating tactile functions. Addition of a pleasant stimulus could allow for a more complete characterisation of somatosensory function. The aims of this review were to systematically assess the methodologies used to elicit a pleasant sensation, measured via psychophysical techniques, and to perform a meta-analysis to measure the effect of brush stroking velocity on touch pleasantness. Eighteen studies were included in the systematic review, with five studies included in the meta-analysis. The review found that factors such as texture, velocity, force, and the duration of continuous stroking influence tactile evoked pleasantness. Specifically, using a soft material and stroking at a velocity of 3 cm/s with light force is generally considered as particularly pleasant. The meta-analysis showed that a brush stroking velocity of 30 cm/s was rated as less pleasant than 3 cm/s, on the forearm. The present study collates the factors that are most likely to provide a stimulus to elicit a pleasant sensation. The results should be important for studies requiring a well-defined pleasant stimulus including neurosensory assessment protocols, allowing for a more complete multimodality assessment of somatosensory function.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  1. Ackerley, R., Carlsson, I., Wester, H., Olausson, H., & Backlund Wasling, H. (2014). Touch perceptions across skin sites: Differences between sensitivity, direction discrimination and pleasantness. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 8, 54. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2014.00054.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  2. Bennett, R. H., Bolling, D. Z., Anderson, L. C., Pelphrey, K. A., & Kaiser, M. D. (2014). fNIRS detects temporal lobe response to affective touch. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9, 470–476.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Bessou, P., Burgess, P., Perl, E., & Taylor, C. (1971). Dynamic properties of mechanoreceptors with unmyelinated (C) fibers. Journal of Neurophysiology, 34, 116–131.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Borenstein, M., Hedges, L. V., Higgins, J. P., & Rothstein, H. R. (2011). Introduction to meta-analysis. Hoboken: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Case, L. K., Čeko, M., Gracely, J. L., Richards, E. A., Olausson, H., & Bushnell, M. C. (2016a). Touch perception altered by chronic pain and by opioid blockade. eNeuro, 3, 0138.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Case, L. K., Laubacher, C. M., Olausson, H., Wang, B. Q., Spagnolo, P. A., & Bushnell, M. C. (2016b). Encoding of touch intensity but not pleasantness in human primary somatosensory cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 36, 5850–5860.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 155.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Croy, I., Geide, H., Paulus, M., Weidner, K., & Olausson, H. (2016). Affective touch awareness in mental health and disease relates to autistic traits—An explorative neurophysiological investigation. Psychiatry Research, 245, 491–496.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Dunlap, W. P., Cortina, J. M., Vaslow, J. B., & Burke, M. J. (1996). Meta-analysis of experiments with matched groups or repeated measures designs. Psychological Methods, 1, 170.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Ellingsen, D.-M., Wessberg, J., Eikemo, M., Liljencrantz, J., Endestad, T., Olausson, H., & Leknes, S. (2013). Placebo improves pleasure and pain through opposite modulation of sensory processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110, 17993–17998.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  11. Essick, G. K., McGlone, F., Dancer, C., Fabricant, D., Ragin, Y., Phillips, N., … Guest, S. (2010). Quantitative assessment of pleasant touch. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 192–203.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. Etzi, R., Carta, C., & Gallace, A. (2018). Stroking and tapping the skin: behavioral and electrodermal effects. Experimental Brain Research, 236, 453–461.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Etzi, R., Spence, C., & Gallace, A. (2014). Textures that we like to touch: An experimental study of aesthetic preferences for tactile stimuli. Consciousness and Cognition, 29, 178–188.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Faraone, S. V. (2008). Interpreting estimates of treatment effects: Implications for managed care. Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 33, 700.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  15. Ferreira-Valente, M. A., Pais-Ribeiro, J. L., & Jensen, M. P. (2011). Validity of four pain intensity rating scales. Pain, 152, 2399–2404.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Gallace, A., & Spence, C. (2010). The science of interpersonal touch: an overview. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 246–259.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Gordon, I., Voos, A. C., Bennett, R. H., Bolling, D. Z., Pelphrey, K. A., & Kaiser, M. D. (2013). Brain mechanisms for processing affective touch. Human Brain Mapping, 34, 914–922.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Guest, S., & Essick, G. K. (2016). Psychophysical assessment of the sensory and affective components of touch. Affective Touch and the Neurophysiology of CT Afferents. New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Hawker, G. A., Mian, S., Kendzerska, T., & French, M. (2011). Measures of adult pain: Visual analog scale for pain (VAS pain), numeric rating scale for pain (NRS pain), McGill pain questionnaire (MPQ), short-form McGill pain questionnaire (SF-MPQ), chronic pain grade scale (CPGS), short form-36 bodily pain scale (SF-36 BPS), and measure of intermittent and constant osteoarthritis pain (ICOAP). Arthritis Care & Research, 63, S240–S252.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Heslin, R., Nguyen, T. D., & Nguyen, M. L. (1983). Meaning of touch: The case of touch from a stranger or same sex person. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 7, 147–157.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Higgins, J. P. T., & Green, S. E. (2011). Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011] (Online). The Cochrane Collaboration. www.handbook.cochrane.org. Accessed September 2018.

  22. Higgins, J. P., & Thompson, S. G. (2002). Quantifying heterogeneity in a meta-analysis. Statistics in Medicine, 21, 1539–1558.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Higgins, J. P., Thompson, S. G., Deeks, J. J., & Altman, D. G. (2003). Measuring inconsistency in meta-analyses. British Medical Journal, 327, 557.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Hua, Q. P., Zeng, X. Z., Liu, J. Y., Wang, J. Y., Guo, J. Y., & Luo, F. (2008). Dynamic changes in brain activations and functional connectivity during affectively different tactile stimuli. Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, 28, 57–70.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Huisman, G., Frederiks, A. D., van Erp, J. B. F., & Heylen, D. K. J. (2016). Simulating affective touch: Using a vibrotactile array to generate pleasant stroking sensations. In F. Bello, H. Kajimoto, & Y. Visell (Eds.), Haptics: Perception, devices, control, and applications. Cham: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Iggo, A. (1960). Cutaneous mechanoreceptors with afferent C fibres. Journal of Physiology, 152, 337–353.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Iggo, A., & Kornhuber, H. (1977). A quantitative study of C-mechanoreceptors in hairy skin of the cat. Journal of Physiology, 271, 549–565.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Israel, H., & Richter, R. R. (2011). A guide to understanding meta-analysis. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 41, 496–504.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Jönsson, E. H., Backlund Wasling, H., Wagnbeck, V., Dimitriadis, M., Georgiadis, J. R., Olausson, H., & Croy, I. (2015). Unmyelinated tactile cutaneous nerves signal erotic sensations. Journal of Sexual Medecine, 12, 1338–1345.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Jönsson, E. H., Bendas, J., Weidner, K., Wessberg, J., Olausson, H., Wasling, H. B., & Croy, I. (2017). The relation between human hair follicle density and touch perception. Scientific Reports, 7, 2499.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  31. Kass-Iliyya, L., Leung, M., Marshall, A., Trotter, P., Kobylecki, C., Walker, S., et al. (2016). The perception of affective touch in Parkinson’s disease and its relation to small fibre neuropathy. European Journal of Neuroscience, 45, 232–237.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Liljencrantz, J., Björnsdotter, M., Morrison, I., Bergstrand, S., Ceko, M., Seminowicz, D. A., … Olausson, H. (2013). Altered C-tactile processing in human dynamic tactile allodynia. Pain, 154, 227–234.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. Liljencrantz, J., Marshall, A., Ackerley, R., & Olausson, H. (2014). Discriminative and affective touch in human experimental tactile allodynia. Neuroscience Letters, 563, 75–79.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. Löken, L. S., Evert, M., & Wessberg, J. (2011). Pleasantness of touch in human glabrous and hairy skin: Order effects on affective ratings. Brain Research, 1417, 9–15.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. Löken, L. S., Wessberg, J., Morrison, I., McGlone, F., & Olausson, H. (2009). Coding of pleasant touch by unmyelinated afferents in humans. Nature Neuroscience, 12, 547–548.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. López-López, J. A., Page, M. J., Lipsey, M. W., & Higgins, J. P. (2018). Dealing with effect size multiplicity in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Research Synthesis Methods, 9, 336–351.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Luong, A., Bendas, J., Etzi, R., Olausson, H., & Croy, I. (2017). The individual preferred velocity of stroking touch as a stable measurement. Physiology & Behavior, 177, 129–134.

    Google Scholar 

  38. McGlone, F., Olausson, H., Boyle, J. A., Jones-Gotman, M., Dancer, C., Guest, S., & Essick, G. (2012). Touching and feeling: Differences in pleasant touch processing between glabrous and hairy skin in humans. European Journal of Neuroscience, 35, 1782–1788.

    Google Scholar 

  39. McGlone, F., Wessberg, J., & Olausson, H. (2014). Discriminative and affective touch: Sensing and feeling. Neuron, 82, 737–755.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzlaff, J., & Altman, D. G. (2009). Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: The PRISMA statement. PLoS Medicine, 6, e1000097.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  41. Morris, S. B., & DeShon, R. P. (2002). Combining effect size estimates in meta-analysis with repeated measures and independent-groups designs. Psychological Methods, 7, 105.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. Morrison, I. (2012). CT afferents. Current Biology, 22, 77–78.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Morrison, I., Björnsdotter, M., & Olausson, H. (2011). Vicarious responses to social touch in posterior insular cortex are tuned to pleasant caressing speeds. Jouranl of Neuroscience, 31, 9554–9562.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Morrison, I., Loken, L. S., & Olausson, H. (2010). The skin as a social organ. Experimental Brain Research, 204, 305–314.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. Nordin, M. (1990). Low-threshold mechanoreceptive and nociceptive units with unmyelinated (C) fibres in the human supraorbital nerve. Journal of Physiology, 426, 229.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Ohnhaus, E. E., & Adler, R. (1975). Methodological problems in the measurement of pain: a comparison between the verbal rating scale and the visual analogue scale. Pain, 1, 379–384.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. Olausson, H. W., Cole, J., Vallbo, Å., McGlone, F., Elam, M., Krämer, H. H., … Bushnell, M. C. (2008). Unmyelinated tactile afferents have opposite effects on insular and somatosensory cortical processing. Neuroscience Letters, 436, 128–132.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. Olausson, H., Lamarre, Y., Backlund, H., Morin, C., Wallin, B., Starck, G., … Vallbo, Å. (2002). Unmyelinated tactile afferents signal touch and project to insular cortex. Nature Neuroscience, 5, 900–904.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  49. Olausson, H., Wessberg, J., McGlone, F., & Vallbo, Å. (2010). The neurophysiology of unmyelinated tactile afferents. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 185–191.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Pawling, R., Cannon, P. R., McGlone, F. P., & Walker, S. C. (2017). C-tactile afferent stimulating touch carries a positive affective value. PLoS ONE, 12, e0173457.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  51. Peters, J. L., Sutton, A. J., Jones, D. R., Abrams, K. R., & Rushton, L. (2006). Comparison of two methods to detect publication bias in meta-analysis. JAMA, 295, 676–680.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. Pigg, M., Baad-Hansen, L., Svensson, P., Drangsholt, M., & List, T. (2010). Reliability of intraoral quantitative sensory testing (QST). Pain, 148, 220–226.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  53. Poort, L. J., van Neck, J. W., & van der Wal, K. G. (2009). Sensory testing of inferior alveolar nerve injuries: A review of methods used in prospective studies. Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, 67, 292–300.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  54. Price, D. D., McGrath, P. A., Rafii, A., & Buckingham, B. (1983). The validation of visual analogue scales as ratio scale measures for chronic and experimental pain. Pain, 17, 45–56.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. Rolke, R., Magerl, W., Campbell, K. A., Schalber, C., Caspari, S., Birklein, F., & Treede, R. D. (2006). Quantitative sensory testing: A comprehensive protocol for clinical trials. European Journal of Pain, 10, 77.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. Sailer, U., Triscoli, C., Haggblad, G., Hamilton, P., Olausson, H., & Croy, I. (2016). Temporal dynamics of brain activation during 40 min of pleasant touch. NeuroImage, 139, 360–367.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  57. Sedgwick, P. (2013). Meta-analyses: heterogeneity and subgroup analysis. British Medical Journal, 346, f4040.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Svensson, P., Baad-Hansen, L., Pigg, M., List, T., Eliav, E., Ettlin, D., … Jääskeläinen, S. (2011). Guidelines and recommendations for assessment of somatosensory function in oro-facial pain conditions—A taskforce report. Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, 38, 366–394.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  59. Taneja, P., Olausson, H., Trulsson, M., Vase, L., Svensson, P., & Baad-Hansen, L. (2019). Assessment of experimental orofacial pain, pleasantness and unpleasantness via standardised psychophysical testing. European Journal of Pain, 23, 1297–1308.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  60. Triscoli, C., Ackerley, R., & Sailer, U. (2014). Touch satiety: Differential effects of stroking velocity on liking and wanting touch over repetitions. PLoS ONE, 9(11), e113425.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  61. Triscoli, C., Olausson, H., Sailer, U., Ignell, H., & Croy, I. (2013). CT-optimized skin stroking delivered by hand or robot is comparable. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 7, 208. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00208.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  62. Trotter, P. D., McGlone, F., McKie, S., McFarquhar, M., Elliott, R., Walker, S. C., … Foxe, J. (2016). Effects of acute tryptophan depletion on central processing of CT-targeted and discriminatory touch in humans. European Journal of Neuroscience, 44, 2072–2083.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Tsalamlal, M. Y., Ouarti, N., Martin, J.-C. & Ammi, M. (2013). EmotionAir: Perception of emotions from air jet based tactile stimulation. In 2013 Humaine association conference on affective computing and intelligent interaction (ACII) (pp. 215–220). IEEE.

  64. Vallbo, Å., Olausson, H., & Wessberg, J. (1999). Unmyelinated afferents constitute a second system coding tactile stimuli of the human hairy skin. Journal of Neurophysiology, 81, 2753–2763.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  65. Vallbo, A. B., Olausson, H. K., Wessberg, J., & Norrsell, U. (1993). A system of unmyelinated afferents for innocuous mechanoreception in the human skin. Brain Research, 628, 301–304.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  66. Voos, A. C., Pelphrey, K. A., & Kaiser, M. D. (2013). Autistic traits are associated with diminished neural response to affective touch. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8, 378–386.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  67. Walker, S. C., Trotter, P. D., Woods, A., & McGlone, F. (2017). Vicarious ratings of social touch reflect the anatomical distribution & velocity tuning of C-tactile afferents: A hedonic homunculus? Behavioural Brain Research, 320, 91–96.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  68. Wewers, M. E., & Lowe, N. K. (1990). A critical review of visual analogue scales in the measurement of clinical phenomena. Research in Nursing & Health, 13, 227–236.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Williamson, A., & Hoggart, B. (2005). Pain: A review of three commonly used pain rating scales. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 14, 798–804.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pankaj Taneja.

Ethics declarations

Conflicts of interest

The authors state that there is no conflict of interest in connection with this study.

Ethical standards

This study is a systematic review and meta-analysis and does not require ethical approval.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Appendix

Appendix

See Table 4

Table 4 14 item quality assessment checklist

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Taneja, P., Olausson, H., Trulsson, M. et al. Defining pleasant touch stimuli: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Research 85, 20–35 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01253-8

Download citation