A systematic review and multivariate meta-analysis of the physical and mental health benefits of touch interventions

Julian Packheiser, Helena Hartmann, Kelly Fredriksen, Valeria Gazzola, Christian Keysers, Frédéric Michon

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
38 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Receiving touch is of critical importance, as many studies have shown that touch promotes mental and physical well-being. We conducted a pre-registered (PROSPERO: CRD42022304281) systematic review and multilevel meta-analysis encompassing 137 studies in the meta-analysis and 75 additional studies in the systematic review (n = 12,966 individuals, search via Google Scholar, PubMed and Web of Science until 1 October 2022) to identify critical factors moderating touch intervention efficacy. Included studies always featured a touch versus no touch control intervention with diverse health outcomes as dependent variables. Risk of bias was assessed via small study, randomization, sequencing, performance and attrition bias. Touch interventions were especially effective in regulating cortisol levels (Hedges' g = 0.78, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.24 to 1.31) and increasing weight (0.65, 95% CI 0.37 to 0.94) in newborns as well as in reducing pain (0.69, 95% CI 0.48 to 0.89), feelings of depression (0.59, 95% CI 0.40 to 0.78) and state (0.64, 95% CI 0.44 to 0.84) or trait anxiety (0.59, 95% CI 0.40 to 0.77) for adults. Comparing touch interventions involving objects or robots resulted in similar physical (0.56, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.88 versus 0.51, 95% CI 0.38 to 0.64) but lower mental health benefits (0.34, 95% CI 0.19 to 0.49 versus 0.58, 95% CI 0.43 to 0.73). Adult clinical cohorts profited more strongly in mental health domains compared with healthy individuals (0.63, 95% CI 0.46 to 0.80 versus 0.37, 95% CI 0.20 to 0.55). We found no difference in health benefits in adults when comparing touch applied by a familiar person or a health care professional (0.51, 95% CI 0.29 to 0.73 versus 0.50, 95% CI 0.38 to 0.61), but parental touch was more beneficial in newborns (0.69, 95% CI 0.50 to 0.88 versus 0.39, 95% CI 0.18 to 0.61). Small but significant small study bias and the impossibility to blind experimental conditions need to be considered. Leveraging factors that influence touch intervention efficacy will help maximize the benefits of future interventions and focus research in this field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1088-1107
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Volume8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 08 Apr 2024

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