Which Is Your Most Important Sense – Sight, Smell, Taste, Touch, Hearing?

Amazing new research is coming out showing the fundamental importance of your sense of touch. It is the first sense available to you as a baby. A variety of positive and negative emotions can be understood through brief one second touches to the forearm, even when you cannot see the person touching you.

It may be that touch sends more information than gestures, body language or facial expressions. Touch varies widely in its expression – a hug, a gentle touch on the shoulder, a scratch on the face, a hip check, a high five, a punch to the bicep, a desperate clutch to the forearm. All of these are expressions of touch filled with social and emotional meaning for the person whom receives the touch.

While I follow the latest research on emotion and psychology, I was surprised and delighted to see a study on touch appear in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated (The Metaphysical Significance, Staggering Ubiquity and Sheer Joy of High Fives by Chris Ballard). The study which looked at the effects of touch on performance in the NBA is entitled Tactile Communication, Cooperation and Performance: An Ethological Study of the NBA and comes out of the greatest university in the world – U.C. Berkeley (okay, I’m biased!). Lead researchers of the project are Michael Kraus and Dacher Keltner.

The researchers observed nearly 300 NBA players (across all 30 teams) over a period of 2 months. They catalogued and recorded every touch between players during games. The touches were classified in one of 12 areas including categories such as high fives, head slaps, and jumping shoulder bumps. The results were nothing short of awe-inspiring. The more touches between teammates, the more wins the team had.

The teams that touch the most? The Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Both of these teams surpassed the 60 win mark last season. And both teams averaged more than 100 seconds of touching during games. The results held even when the lofty expectations are taken into account for these elite teams.

The teams that touch the least? The Sacramento Kings and the Charlotte Bobcats. They averaged a measly 16.5 seconds and earned only 52 wins last season combined.

How about individual players? Does the power of touch hold at an individual level?

The ‘touchiest’ players (i.e., most high fives, chest bumps, head slaps) are also among the NBA’s elite players including Kevin Garnett of the Celtics, Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors, Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, and Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks. Garnett averages 15.7 seconds of touching per game which is over two times as much as the entire Sacramento Kings entire team.

Apparently, it’s the leaders of the team that initiate most of the touching in the form of hugs, low fives, fist bumps and more.

Why is there such a powerful effect for the sense of touch?

We know that massages from loved ones not only reduce pain, they also reduce depressive symptoms. Students who are given a compassionate pat on the shoulder are 200% more likely to volunteer for an in class assignment. When your doctor offers a sympathetic touch, it makes you feel as if he has spent twice as much time with you during the visit.

How can one sense be related to such varied and significant events as wins in the NBA, reduction in depression, perception of time, reduction in pain, and promotion of altruistic behavior?

The primary theory is that touch activates the autonomic nervous system which has two branches – the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).  One helpful metaphor to understand these two is the idea of a car in which the accelerator is like the sympathetic nervous system and the brakes are akin to the parasympathetic nervous system. Positive touches (e.g., kind, compassionate, tender, gentle, sympathetic, etc.) seem to activate the PNS, or the body’s brakes, which helps the body to relax, to experience positive emotions. Negative touches (e.g., a punch, a pinch, scratch or a bite) seems to activate the SNS, or the body’s gas pedal, which prepares the body for the fight or flight response.

In many of us, the SNS is chronically active as if the gas pedal is being pushed continuously. Due to the fast pace of society, the financial demands, the pressure of balancing work, home and personal health, many get into a cycle of chronic low level stress. In this case, the PNS, the relaxation response, is rarely, if ever, activated.

In sports psychology, it is known that the zone, where optimal human functioning occurs, requires a balance between stress and relaxation. In other words, there needs to be a balance between the functioning of the SNS and the PNS. Touch seems to be one way to activate the PNS thereby balancing the pressure of performing in the moment with the relaxation response, allowing athletes to perform at their peak.

Hope you enjoyed this one! I sure enjoyed writing it!

All the best,

John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Guide To Self, Inc.

Positive Psychology Coach

How to Transform Your Outlook from Pessimistic to Realistically Optimistic – Positive Psychology

I received an email today from a highly qualified individual who works with adolescents. She asked how I changed my own temperament from pessimistic to optimistic.


Here is her email…


Hi John - Hope I am not a nuisance. I would like to follow up to the email I sent last night with some thoughts I had overnight. Since you don't know me at all(!) and you may be uncomfortable responding, I thought I would share just to let you know I do have some credentials for doing what I do - I have a Masters in Counseling/Sport Psych, certifications in hypnotherapy/neuro-linguistic psych/life coach, and a Gallup University Strengths Performance certification. I have been a NCAA Tennis coach as well. I’ve been working with young adults and professionals on tour for fifteen years.


More importantly - I am wondering how you transformed your outlook from black to white…I read that it was a conscious decision, attitude is a choice, however many individuals (mainly kids) are not strong enough to do this movement from bleak to bright (of course so they say… however are very resilient so the corollary should apply! may be excuse too as it takes hard work). What did you do daily to see and feel the glass half full?


Thanks for your attention and consideration of responding. Think positive as you never know when something like this could lead to a speaking engagement across country!






And here is my response…


Dear Jeanne:


No nuisance at all. A pleasure.


The primary ways that I have altered my own temperament overlaps with the exercises that I share with others …Forgiveness a la Fred Luskin, Gratitude a la Robert Emmons, Mindfulness a la Jon Kabat-Zinn, Curiosity a la Todd Kashdan, Resiliency via Bonnie Bernard at WestEd, self-compassion via Duke University,  identifying strengths, values, purpose and meaning (Chris Peterson, Martin Seligman, William Damon), and then a large amount of time spent on awareness of and tools to manage emotions – both mitigating ‘negative’ emotions and fostering ‘positive’ emotions. The biggest help, I believe, came from the notion of radical acceptance of emotions and thoughts that comes with the practice of mindfulness.


This combined approach has been immensely helpful to numerous clients, in particular adolescent males.  Most of the men I see come in with complaints of depression, anger, irritability, anxiety and/or lack of purpose. I'm continually amazed at the results that clients achieve after learning and applying these tools. 


To keep younger folks engaged in the process, I often insert rewarding breaks such as short clips of stand up comics (laughter open us up to new learning), BMX trick riding videos (facilitates awe), and so on. I also reveal a lot of my past to clients to a) normalize their current situation and b) make the dynamic more of a two-way relationship. I believe it is difficult and unnatural to ask an adolescent male to come into an office and spill their stories to a stranger.  To improve upon the traditional therapeutic model, I often tell young men that they don’t even need to speak in the first session if they so choose. The simple act of giving them the choice and the power over how much to divulge and how quickly empowers them and makes them feel comfortable.  And we know that  roughly ½ of positive emotions have a prerequisite of feeling safe and comfortable before one has a chance of experiencing them.


I think Positive Psychology is necessary but insufficient to get many to a happier, more meaningful place in the sense that negative emotions are ‘stronger’ than positive ones. So the best bang for the buck in terms of increasing life satisfaction comes from teaching others to turn down the volume on the major negative emotions (anger, fear, sadness). This idea was well laid out in a recent paper by Todd Kashdan.


However, it’s also useful and necessary to teach people to identify and foster positive emotions as we are oftentimes unaware of many of them and they pass us by quickly. We know the positive emotions are fragile and fleeting so we need to train ourselves to be mindful of opportunities for the cultivation of positive emotions.


And of course, there are the more common sense interventions as well – proper diet, adequate exercise, hanging out with supportive, nonjudgmental people and appropriate assertiveness (to nip festering irritation before it escalates to anger or rage).


I hope that is helpful.


Feel free to email back!


All the best,





John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Author of the award-winning book Guide To Self:

The Beginner's Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

(925) 575-0258

GuideToSelf.com - Web site

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com - Award-winning Blog

@johnschin - Twitter




What’s Coming Next With Well-Being Per Daniel Kahneman

The Well-Being Explosion and What’s Next

Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman states that increasing interest in life satisfaction and well-being is reaching critical mass throughout the world now that economists are involved with measuring Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH) and other key metrics. In a clip from Gallup’s series, “Next Steps: Transforming Americans’ Health and Well-Being,” Kahneman looks at why the study of emotions is likely to be the future of well-being research.




It’s a fantastic, uplifting feeling to know that the rest of the world might be beginning to realize the importance of the work on which I’ve been spending the past 15 years of my life. Ever since 1995, I’ve been studying, practicing and teaching the best scientifically-proven methods to alleviate destructive emotions (e.g., fear, anger, sadness) and cultivate more constructive emotions (e.g., awe, pride, love, contentment, curiosity, and more). I’ve written award winning book (Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought), spoken to tens of thousands of people and done a daily prime time radio show. It is so rewarding to think that some folks might be understanding the power, importance and ubiquity of emotions.


I’ll check in with you soon!


All the best,


John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Guide To Self, Inc.


Happiness, Greater Well-being Related to Less Chit Chat & More Deeper Conversations

Press release from Association of Psychological Science…

Talking Your Way to Happiness: Well-being Is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations

Is a happy life filled with trivial chatter or reflective and profound conversations? Psychological scientists Matthias R. Mehl, Shannon E. Holleran, and C. Shelby Clark from the University of Arizona, along with Simine Vazire of Washington University in St. Louis investigated whether happy and unhappy people differ in the types of conversations they tend to engage in. Volunteers wore an unobtrusive recording device called the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR) over four days. This device periodically records snippets of sounds as participants go about their lives. For this experiment, the EAR sampled 30 seconds of sounds every 12.5 minutes yielding a total of more than 20,000 recordings. Researchers then listened to the recordings and identified the conversations as trivial small talk or substantive discussions. In addition, the volunteers completed personality and well-being assessments.

As reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, analysis of the recordings revealed some very interesting findings. Greater well-being was related to spending less time alone and more time talking to others: The happiest participants spent 25% less time alone and 70% more time talking than the unhappiest participants. In addition to the difference in the amount of social interactions happy and unhappy people had, there was also a difference in the types of conversations they took part in: The happiest participants had twice as many substantive conversations and one third as much small talk as the unhappiest participants.

These findings suggest that the happy life is social and conversationally deep rather than solitary and superficial. The researchers surmise that — though the current findings cannot identify the causal direction — deep conversations may have the potential to make people happier. They note, “Just as self-disclosure can instill a sense of intimacy in a relationship, deep conversations may instill a sense of meaning in the interaction partners.”

News Release

March 4, 2010
For Immediate Release

Contact: Barbara Isanski
Association for Psychological Science