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    Hold me or stroke me? Individual differences in static and dynamic affective touch

    Ali, S Hasan, Makdani, Adarsh D, Cordero, Maria I, Paltoglou, Aspasia, Marshall, Andrew G, McFarquhar, Martyn J, McGlone, Francis P, Walker, Susannah C and Trotter, Paula D (2023) Hold me or stroke me? Individual differences in static and dynamic affective touch. PLoS One, 18 (5). e0281253. ISSN 1932-6203

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    Low-threshold mechanosensory C-fibres, C-tactile afferents (CTs), respond optimally to sensations associated with a human caress. Additionally, CT-stimulation activates brain regions associated with processing affective states. This evidence has led to the social touch hypothesis, that CTs have a key role in encoding the affective properties of social touch. Thus, to date, the affective touch literature has focussed on gentle stroking touch. However, social touch interactions involve many touch types, including static, higher force touch such as hugging and holding. This study aimed to broaden our understanding of the social touch hypothesis by investigating relative preference for static vs dynamic touch and the influence of force on these preferences. Additionally, as recent literature has highlighted individual differences in CT-touch sensitivity, this study investigated the influence of affective touch experiences and attitudes, autistic traits, depressive symptomology and perceived stress on CT-touch sensitivity. Directly experienced, robotic touch responses were obtained through a lab-based study and vicarious touch responses through an online study where participants rated affective touch videos. Individual differences were determined by self-report questionnaire measures. In general, static touch was preferred over CT-non-optimal stroking touch, however, consistent with previous reports, CT-optimal stroking (velocity 1-10 cm/s) was rated most pleasant. However, static and CT-optimal vicarious touch were rated comparably for dorsal hand touch. For all velocities, 0.4N was preferred over 0.05N and 1.5N robotic touch. Participant dynamic touch quadratic terms were calculated for robotic and vicarious touch as a proxy CT-sensitivity measure. Attitudes to intimate touch significantly predict robotic and vicarious quadratic terms, as well as vicarious static dorsal hand touch ratings. Perceived stress negatively predicted robotic static touch ratings. This study has identified individual difference predictors of CT-touch sensitivity. Additionally, it has highlighted the context dependence of affective touch responses and the need to consider static, as well as dynamic affective touch.

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