London: A reassuring pat on the back by your senior colleague can make your day in the same way as a nurturing touch by a mother can stop her baby from crying.
Human touch, which is increasingly becoming rare with the ubiquitous increase in social media, can trigger many emotions and scientists have now unravelled the process how we recognise a gentle touch that evokes positive emotions.
The nerves that respond to a gentle touch, called c-tactile afferents (CTs), are similar to those that detect pain, but they serve an opposite function - they relay events that are neither threatening nor tissue-damaging but are instead rewarding and pleasant, the study showed.
To prove their point, the investigators used a range of scientific techniques to characterise these nerves and to describe the fundamental role they play in our lives as a social species.
"Possessing an emotional touch system in the skin is as important to well being and survival as having a system of nerves that protect us from harm," stressed professor Francis McGlone of Liverpool John Moores University in Britain.
"Recent research is finding that people on the autistic spectrum do not process emotional touch normally, leading us to hypothesise that a failure of the CT system during neuro-development may impact adversely on the functioning of the social brain and the sense of self," McGlone explained.
For some individuals with autism, the light touch of certain fabrics in clothing can cause distress.
The findings appeared in the journal Neuron.