January 16, 2021

Topical heterogeneity in affective touch: Does it impact body image?

Recent evidence suggests that altered responses to affective touch – a pleasant interoceptive stimulus associated with activation of the C-Tactile (CT) system, may contribute to the aetiology and maintenance of mental conditions characterised by body image disturbances (e.g., Anorexia Nervosa). Here, we investigated whether tactile pleasantness and intensity differ across body sites, and if individual differences in dysmorphic appearance concerns and body awareness might be associated to touch perceptions across body sites. To this end, we measured perceived pleasantness and intensity of gentle, dynamic stroking touches applied to the palm, forearm, face, abdomen and back of 30 female participants (mean age: 25.87{+/-}1.17yrs) using CT-optimal (3 cm/s) and non-CT optimal (0.3 and 30 cm/s) stroking touch. As expected, participants rated CT-targeted touch as more pleasant compared to the two non-CT optimal stroking touch at all body sites. Nevertheless, CT-targeted touch applied to the abdomen elicited the lowest pleasantness ratings compared to all other body sites and to the two non-CT optimal stroking touch. Individual differences in body awareness and dysmorphic concerns significantly predicted preference for CT-optimal over non-CT optimal stroking touch applied to the forearm and the back. These findings begin to elucidate the link between CT sensitivity, dysmorphic appearance concerns and body awareness, which may have implications for future research looking to inform early interventions. Addressing impaired processing of affective interoceptive stimuli, such as CT-targeted touch, may be the key to current treatment approaches available for those populations at risk of disorders characterised by body image disturbance.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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