Events

Touch in perspective: Have we lost sight of our sense of touch?

Over the past two years, there has been an unprecedented focus and heightened awareness of our sense of touch. The coronavirus pandemic meant that touch was central to public awareness of how to mitigate against the spread of COVID-19.  Also, in 2021, arguably for the first time in its history, the Nobel prize in Physiology was awarded to two scientists for their work on the sense of touch.  Given its function in everyday tasks, from handling objects, feeling textures, making consumer decisions, to social interactions, as well as how touch can change as we age, it is surprising how little scientists know about touch relative to other major senses such as vision and hearing. We may now be witnessing a reawakened focus on touch and can hope to expect a wave of important discoveries about this relatively neglected sense. 

‘Touch in Perspective: Have we lost sight of our sense of touch?’ was held Wednesday 11th of May at 6.00 pmto discuss our sense of touch.  We invited experts in neuroscience and art and design, who each explained their perspective on the importance of touch. 

Host: Fiona Newell, Professor of Experimental Psychology and member of the Multisensory Perception and Cognition Lab, Institute of Neuroscience, Trinity College Dublin.

Co-host: Harriet Allen, Professor of Lifespan Psychology, Faculty of Science, University of Nottingham, UK.

Harriet measures the neural processes of combining sensory information and how these processes change across the lifespan. She has applied this to human factors, vehicle design and the everyday environment.

Main speakerAikatarina Fotopoulou, Professor of Psychodynamic Neuroscience, University College London, UK.

Katerina’s research focuses on topics and disorders that lie at the borders between neurology and psychology. She is the Treasurer and co-founder of the International Association for the Study of Affective Touch. She will present insights from her studies on the psychology and neuroscience of affective touch.

Abstract: I will present insights from the psychology and neuroscience of affective touch, including the mechanisms by which affective touch acts to facilitate affective regulation (e.g. the neurophysiological mechanisms by which parents can sooth stress or pain by touch), affective communication (e.g. how touch can communicate social support or empathy) and self development (how touch interactions in early life teach us about our body boundaries) in health and in disease. I will explore relevant data collected during the pandemic on the mental health effects of unprecedented touch deprivation in human adults, as well as survey, experimental and neuroimaging insights on experiences and attitudes to digital remote touch technology for mediating physical remoteness and social communication.

Panelists:

Fiona Wilson, Associate Professor in Physiotherapy, School of Medicine, Trinity College.

Fiona’s research aims to understand athletes’ pain and injury, to support their performance, welfare and safety in the short term, and their health and wellbeing through their life trajectory. She explores injury prevention, early recognition and optimal injury treatment.

Gerry Lacey, Professor of Robotics, University of Maynooth.

Gerry’s research has focused on robotics and interactive systems in the healthcare domain. His main research area is sensor driven human-machine interaction which included the development of a novel robotic walking frame.

Mathew Bates, Principal Industrial Designer at Verizon Connect.

Mathew has been working in industrial design for many years. His work has mainly focused on the design of physical artifacts as well as the experience of the digital interface.

Graham Elstone, Artist, City Arts, Nottingham, UK.

Graham’s creative work takes a mixed medium approach, incorporating technology which results in a fusion of artwork including installation work, visual arts, and performance.

Alan Wing, Professor of Human Movement, University of Birmingham, UK.

Alan is interested in anticipatory aspects of human movement control. An important goal for his research is to understand how the brain uses sensory input to develop and maintain accurate internal models for control of movement.