Gentle touch perception across the lifespan

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


  • Isac Sehlstedt - , University of Gothenburg (Author)
  • Hanna Ignell - , University of Gothenburg (Author)
  • Helena Backlund Wasling - , University of Gothenburg (Author)
  • Rochelle Ackerley - , University of Gothenburg (Author)
  • Håkan Olausson - , Linköping University (Author)
  • Ilona Croy - , Department of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatic Medicine, Linköping University (Author)


Pleasant, affective touch provides various health benefits, including stress and depression relief. There is a dichotomy between mechanoreceptive afferents that predominantly signal discriminative (myelinated A-beta) and affective (unmyelinated C-tactile) aspects of touch. It is well documented that discriminative abilities of touch decline with age. However, a thorough investigation of how the pleasant aspects of touch develop with age has not been previously attempted. Here, we investigated the relationship between age and psychophysical ratings in response to gentle stroking touch. One hundred twenty participants (60 males, 60 females) ages 13-82 years were presented with C-tactile optimal and suboptimal stroking velocities, and rated pleasantness and intensity. Moreover, to examine the specificity of age effects on touch perception, we used olfactory stimuli as a cross-sensory comparison. For all ages, we found that C-tactile optimal stimuli were rated significantly more pleasant than C-tactile suboptimal stimuli. Although, both touch and olfactory intensity ratings were negatively correlated with age, a positive correlation between pleasantness ratings of touch (but not olfactory stimuli) and age was found. We conclude that the affective, but not the discriminative, aspects of touch are enhanced with increasing age. The increase of pleasantness of all touch stimuli in late adulthood is discussed in relation to cognitive modulations.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176-84
Number of pages9
JournalPsychology and Aging
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016

External IDs

PubMed 26950227
Scopus 84964318460



  • Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Aging/physiology, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Odorants, Olfactory Perception/physiology, Pleasure, Psychophysics, Touch, Touch Perception/physiology, Young Adult