Tech UPTechnologyWhy do we humans touch our faces constantly?

Why do we humans touch our faces constantly?

Avoiding touching your face with your fingers (potentially contaminated) is one of the most important recommendations issued by health authorities as a strategy to prevent coronavirus infection. But why is it so hard not to?

Touching the face is a too frequent behavior in humans, and in all primates in general: people put their hands to their faces, on average, 23 times per hour, and approximately seven touches per hour are specifically directed to the nostrils . But this attitude does not respond only to a mere habit. To stop touching our faces would be equivalent to giving up one of our instincts, and that would have its evolutionary explanation, according to a study just published by the Department of Neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Israel. Touching our faces could be related to the tendency of humans to smell ourselves.

The self-sniffing tendency is clearly evident in the stereotypical behavior of land mammals: rodents, canines, and felines often smell themselves or their own bodily secretions.

All primates touch their faces very frequently. In 20-minute observations, gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans touched their faces an average of 19.87, 24.2, and 12.12 times, respectively, that is, approximately once per minute. The researchers hypothesize that the primate tendency to touch their faces corresponds to this tendency observed in other olfactory self-exploring mammals : “Humans do not smell themselves the way mice, cats and dogs do. However, if we abstract ourselves to contemplate human behavior without bias, we would in fact see an animal that often smells itself, ”the researchers explain.

The aforementioned study that looked at primates also included humans: during a 20-minute observation, 18 participants (unaware that they were being watched) touched their faces an average of 13.33 times, that is, at a speed similar to that of of orangutans.

The frequency of touching varies slightly depending on the activity that is being carried out, also depending on whether the study participants know they are being observed or not, but it is still a very common behavior. For example, one study filmed 10 participants, each observed individually over a three-hour period performing office tasks. Despite knowing they were being watched, which could have increased self-awareness and minimized personal contact, however, they put their hands to their faces approximately 16 times per hour.

Conscious or unconscious act?

Although the scientists speculated that touching one’s face to smell oneself is largely an unconscious act, they observed that humans also consciously smell themselves with high frequency. Through a questionnaire with a sample of 400 respondents, 94% of them acknowledged having smelled themselves.

Although this very common behavior has almost no traction in the medical or psychological literature: “We have suggested a psychological and cultural explanation for this paradox, but we want human sniffing to become a formal research topic.”

A high price

Touching the face can be responsible for transferring almost 25% of respiratory diseases. Given this potentially significant contribution to disease, evolutionary reasoning would imply that there must also be very significant advantages to touching the face; otherwise, this behavior would have been minimized in the repertoire of human behavior in light of its high price, ”the researchers deduce.

Why do we smell each other?

Researchers give various explanations for this. On the one hand, humans smell their hands in part, to obtain information about others they have touched. But the explanation that carries the most weight for scientists is equivalent to the answer to the question of why we humans consciously look in the mirror: “Most people will say that it is to verify that they have a good image. Wanting to “look good” can have similarities to “making sure you don’t smell bad” , which may reflect fears related to the morality of bad smell, on the one hand, for a pleasant relationship with others, on the other, to make sure you do not suffer diseases”.

“We think that, by smelling our own body, we are unconsciously obtaining tranquility from ourselves. This explanation is consistent with the increase in facial touching in times of stress, ”they add.

In addition, this could also explain why people hide their face behind their hands when they feel shame or shame: ” Sniffing the inside of the hand provides a reassuring signal of oneself that helps to manage such threatening emotions,” they argue.


Más información:

‘Are humans constantly but subconsciously smelling themselves?’ Ofer Perl, Eva Mishor, Aharon Ravia, Inbal Ravreby and Noam Sobel Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel NS, 0000-0002-3232-9391

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