Virtual touch and the human social world
Touch forms a central component of social bonding, both in primates and in humans, via the brain's endorphin system. In primates, this involves social grooming, acting via the CT neuron system. Although humans still use soft touch for bonding relationships, they have had to find ways of triggering the endorphin system without the need for physical touch in order to be able to increase the size of their social groups beyond the size of those characteristic of monkeys and apes. These behaviors include laughter, singing, dancing, the rituals of religion, feasting and emotional storytelling, and act functionally as a form of ‘virtual touch’. I summarise recent behavioral, neurobiological and genetic evidence demonstrating that these behaviors both enhance bonding and act through the endorphin system.