What is the value of a good massage? For the surgeonfish, even a fake massage will do! Marta Soares of Portugal's ISPA University Institute recently concluded a study using surgeonfish and fake cleaner fish, that mimicked the movements of real cleaner fish, to see if the draw of the cleaners was their scouring function, or the stimulation that the nibbling action provided to the bigger surgeonfish.
It is well known that many larger fish, including massive sharks, not only allow but encourage small sucker fish to “ride along” and nibble at parasites on the scales of the big fish. It is a symbiotic relationship, in that the small fish gain protection, while the bigger fish get a good cleaning. But seeking out these little stimulators for the sake of a good massage seems hard to understand.
However, the Soares experiment leaves little room for doubt. First, Soares exposed the surgeon fish to all kinds of stressors, similar to what they would experience in the wild, then they were put in a tank with the cleaner wrasse. The surgeonfish immediately sought out the cleaners, and positioned themselves in such a way that the wrasses’ fins provided the massaging action.
So how does this extrapolate to us humans?
Psychology Today reports that, when used to treat eating disorders, massage therapy had some unexpected benefits. As expected, it boosted dopamine and serotonin levels, resulting a calming effect. But it also decreased the patients’ dissatisfaction with their bodies and raised their self esteem. This is the simple and powerful value of touch, as assessed by the University of Michigan Medical School. They showed that there is a strong correlation between being touch-deprived and having an eating disorder.
Developmental psychologist Tiffany Field, Ph.D., claims that massage, for premature babies, helps them gain weight and improve health. She also claims that touch-deprived babies grow up to be more aggressive than those that receive tactile interaction.
Diane Zeitlin, of the New Jersey Medical School discovered that touch therapy revved up the immune system in students at exam time, who were experiencing fatigue and anxiety.
And cancer patients under the care of Pauline King and Richard Jost, of Ohio's James Cancer Hospital reported less pain and anxiety as a result of receiving massage therapy.
More than just sometimes, it seems, the power of touch is all we need to improve our attitudes and responses, our day, and our lives. Whether human or animal, massage and tactile stimulation are essential to our emotional, and physical health.