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A positive touch: C-tactile afferent targeted skin stimulation carries an appetitive motivational value

Pawling, R, Trotter, PD, Francis, FP and Walker, SC (2017) A positive touch: C-tactile afferent targeted skin stimulation carries an appetitive motivational value. Biological Psychology, 129. pp. 186-194. ISSN 0301-0511

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Abstract

The rewarding sensation of touch in affiliative interactions is hypothesised to be underpinned by an un- myelinated system of nerve fibres called C-tactile afferents (CTs). CTs are velocity tuned, responding optimally to slow, gentle touch, typical of a caress. Here we used evaluative conditioning to examine whether CT activation carries a positive affective value. A set of neutral faces were paired with robotically delivered touch to the forearm. With half the faces touch was delivered at a CT optimal velocity of 3 cm/s (CT touch) and with the other half at a faster, non-CT optimal velocity of 30 cm/s (Control touch). Heart-rate and skin conductance responses (SCRs) were recorded throughout. Whilst rated equally approachable pre-conditioning, post-con- ditioning faces paired with CT touch were judged significantly more approachable than those paired with Control touch. CT touch also elicited significantly greater heart-rate deceleration and lower amplitude SCRs than Control touch. The results indicate CT touch carries a positive affective value, which can be acquired by socially relevant stimuli it is associated with.

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