It seems as if touch doesn’t merely increase your good feelings, but it also decreases your bad feelings.
For many years, researchers believed that the nerves of our skin could recognize just four kinds of stimulation: touch, heat, pain and itch. But there is growing evidence that cutaneous senses include another one that conveys information not just about touch, but about the pleasant properties of touch.
Animals that are social by nature, such as many birds and mammals, have areas that can’t be reached by their own design and must be addressed either by rubbing against objects or by grooming by others. These areas — largely the head and neck — appear to be endowed with extra nerves that feel good when stimulated.
I believe that all animals have moods. Sy Montgomery writes “hormones and neurotransmitters, the chemicals associated with human desire, fear, love, joy, and sadness, are highly conserved across taxa… This means that whether you’re a person or a monkey, a bird or a turtle, an octopus or a clam, the physiological changes that accompany our deepest-felt emotions (moods) appear to be the same. Even a brainless scallop’s little heart beats faster when the mollusk is approached by a predator, just like yours or mine would do were we to be accosted by a mugger.”
It is easy for us to spot play in children and domestic mammals. We’ve heard that there is a place where the deer and the antelope play. Those who have looked closely have found play in birds and even reptiles. But play is harder to spot in amphibians or insects or plants. Horses certainly play, and young horses are especially prone to play.
Benefits of Play
Over 30 hypotheses have been advanced by scientists to account for play, but there is not solid support for any one of these hypotheses. Play likely has multiple benefits.
Many have reported that play is more common in young, healthy, well-fed and securely attached animals, suggesting its occurrence indicates well-being. But it is also more likely in barren or boring environments, suggesting that it serves to reduce boredom — a condition not associated with well-being.