Touch satiety: differential effects of stroking velocity on liking and wanting touch over repetitions

PLoS One. 2014 Nov 18;9(11):e113425. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113425. eCollection 2014.


A slow, gentle caress of the skin is a salient hedonic stimulus. Low threshold, unmyelinated C-tactile afferents fire preferentially to this type of touch, where slow (<1 cm/s) and fast (>10 cm/s) stroking velocities produce lower firing frequencies and are rated as less pleasant. The current aim was to investigate how the experience of tactile pleasantness changes with repeated exposure (satiety to touch). A further aim was to determine whether tactile satiety varied with different stroking velocities. The experimental paradigm used a controlled brush stroke to the forearm that was delivered repeatedly for ∼ 50 minutes. In Experiment 1, brush strokes were administered at three different velocities (0.3 cm/s, 3 cm/s and 30 cm/s), which were presented in a pseudo-randomised order. In Experiment 2, brush strokes were applied using only one velocity (either 3 or 30 cm/s). After each stroke, the participants rated both subjective pleasantness (liking) and wanting (the wish to be further exposed to the same stimulus) for each tactile sensation. In Experiment 1, both pleasantness and wanting showed a small, but significant, decrease over repetitions during stroking at 3 cm/s only, where the mean values for pleasantness and wanting were similar. Conversely, slower (0.3 cm/s) and faster (30 cm/s) stroking showed no decrease in ratings over time, however pleasantness was rated higher than wanting. In Experiment 2, both pleasantness and wanting showed a significant decrease over repetitions for both applied velocities, with a larger decrease in ratings for stroking at 3 cm/s. In conclusion, satiety to touch occurred with a slow onset and progression, where pleasantness and wanting ratings to stroking at 3 cm/s were affected more than at the slower or faster velocities. Tactile satiety appears to differ compared to appetitive and olfactory satiety, because the hedonic and rewarding aspects of touch persist for some time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology*
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Random Allocation
  • Reward
  • Satiety Response / physiology*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Skin / innervation
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena
  • Time Factors
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This study was supported by the Swedish Research Council (grant 2011-1529). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.