Our Amazing Sense of Touch

By Betsy Obando

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    Close your eyes and touch something. Is it hot or cold? Hard or soft? Smooth or fuzzy? How do you know? Your skin does many wonderful things. Besides being a protective covering for your body, your skin has many thousands of small nerve endings that tell you how something feels. These nerve endings are called touch receptors.

    There are several types of touch receptors in your skin. Different nerve endings respond to heat, cold, pain, or pressure. Some kinds are free-ending, while others are wrapped around the roots of hairs.

    Some parts of your body have more touch receptors than other parts. For instance, your fingers are more sensitive than your back.

    When you touch something, the touch receptors speed a message through your nerves to your brain like a message going through a telephone wire. Your brain receives the signal and tells you how something feels. If necessary, your brain then races a message back so you will pull away. The slightest pressure puts this process into action—and takes less time than a blink of your eyes.

    Some receptors have the ability to become less receptive. They adjust to pressure and become less sensitive. That is why although the clothes you wear are touching your skin, you usually do not notice them.

    Without your sense of touch, how could you feel the delicate smoothness of a rose petal or the coarseness of a piece of sandpaper? If you can’t see a heat source, such as a flame, you are still able to feel the heat and to know enough to take your hand away before you get burned. And how much better an ice-cream cone tastes because you can feel its icy coldness!

    Illustrated by Karen Sharp