Laura Crucianelli on “Comfortable in our Own Skin: Oxytocin and Affective touch in Anorexia Nervosa”
London Neuropsychoanalysis Group
Abstract: Slow, caress-like touch may play a unique role in the development and maintenance of psychological wellbeing in humans. In particular, recent evidence shows that affective touch (i.e. slow, caress-like touch mediated by the C Tactile system), and more generally interoception signals (i.e. information about the physiological condition of the body) may make a unique contribution to the sense of body ownership. From a neurobiological point of view, positive tactile experiences such as massages and hugging a loved one seem to be related to the release of a neuropeptide, oxytocin (OXT) which is mainly known for its role in labor and breast feeding. Consequently, from a behavioural point of view, OXT is believed to facilitate maternal behaviour, and it has been associated with social bonding more generally, mediating interpersonal style of relating (e.g. attachment). In light of this evidence, I will describe recent experimental evidence suggesting an impaired C Tactile system in Anorexia Nervosa (AN), an eating disorders characterised by restricting eating, body image concerns and social difficulties. Our data suggest a reduced perception of bodily pleasure in response to affective touch compared to healthy controls. These findings are in line with studies showing altered subjective responses to other interoceptive stimuli such as hunger, physical pain and perception of bodily signals. This “affective tactile anhedonia” could potentially be involved in the onset and maintenance of AN. Subsequently, I will discuss recent research investigating the effect of intranasal OXT on the perception of affective touch, interoceptive processing and body representation.
Bio: Laura Crucianelli completed her PhD at the Department of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire, under the supervision of Dr Paul Jenkinson and Dr Katerina Fotopoulou. Her PhD project investigated affective touch, interoceptive awareness and the sense of body ownership, in both healthy and clinical populations. She gained a BSc in Psychology and an MSc in Neuroscience and Neuropsychological Rehabilitation from University of Bologna (Italy). She undertook a year a professional internship at the Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, under the supervision of Dr. Katerina Fotopoulou, where she spent further 4 months working as research assistant. Her duties were mainly aimed at conducting research about awareness of illness in anosognosic patients following right-hemisphere stroke. Laura is currently a postdoctoral researcher at University College London, with a main focus on investigating the effect of intranasal oxytocin on participants with Anorexia Nervosa..