It’s been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it turns out the feeling of soft skin may be just as subjective.
Researchers conducted a series of experiments and found that participants consistently rated the skin of another person as being softer than their own, even if it wasn’t. This “illusion” may occur in order to help people build social bonds through touch, the study authors suggested.
“What is intriguing about the illusion is its specificity,” study co-author Antje Gentsch, from University College London in the United Kingdom, said in a news release from the journal Current Biology.
The illusion was strongest when the stroking was the soft, gentle touch of an intimate relationship, Gentsch explained.
The skin softness “illusion” in the mind of the person doing the touching seems to be dependent on areas of the body and stroking speeds most likely to give pleasure to the other person, the researchers said.
“The illusion reveals a largely automatic and unconscious mechanism by which ‘giving pleasure is receiving pleasure’ in the touch domain,” study leader Aikaterini Fotopoulou, from University College London, said in the news release.
Social touch is important throughout people’s lives and provides physical and mental health benefits, according to the researchers.
Previous studies have shown that softness and smoothness affect areas of the brain tied to emotion and reward. So the illusion that other people’s skin is softer than it actually is provides people doing the touching with their own reward, the study authors said.
Results of the study were published Sept. 10 in Current Biology.
For tips on making your skin more touchable, go to the American Academy of Dermatology.