A recent study from The Clinical Hospital of Chengdu Brain Science Institute in Chengu, China, explored non-invasive and non-pharmacological ways to increase a person’s endogenous production of oxytocin, a hormone that is known for building trust and bond between one or more individuals. What better way to do so than “old-fashioned," affective touch. (1)
Lead researchers Dr. Keith Kendrick and Dr. Weihua recruited 40 healthy, heterosexual male university students in their early twenties, who had at least two experiences with Chinese style foot massage (pressure only, no strokes). Previous research on massage and oxytocin concentration in the bloodstream or saliva among children, the researchers reviewed, did not explore its effects on autistic children or adults.
They hypothesized that hand massage would be more effective at releasing oxytocin than a machine massage, and massage itself increases the response in brain regions that process cognitive and reward effects of social touch of the bilateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and superior temporal sulcus (STS) of the brain, but not in the somatosensory cortex (S1), which responds to to physical touch and its intensity. They also hypothesized that “basal and/or evoked [oxytocin] release and neural responses to hand massage would be positively associated with pleasure/reward ratings and negatively associated with autistic traits and dislike of social touch but not with other personality traits." (1)