New research suggests touch may help people with low self-esteem confront their own mortality.

“Even fleeting and seemingly trivial instances of interpersonal touch may help people to deal more effectively with existential concern,” explained psychological scientist and lead researcher Sander Koole of VU University Amsterdam, Holland

In a series of studies published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Koole and colleagues tested the hypothesis that people with low self-esteem deal with existential concerns by connecting with others, according to a press release from the Association for Psychological Science.

“In one study, an experimenter approached participants as they walked through a university campus,” the press release noted. “The experimenter handed the participants questionnaires to fill out; for some of the participants, she accompanied the questionnaire with a light, open-palmed touch on the participant’s shoulder blade that lasted about one second.”

Participants with low self-esteem who received the brief touch reported less death anxiety on the questionnaire than those who had not been touched.

Touch also seemed to act as a buffer against social alienation when participants were reminded of their mortality, the press release noted. Participants with low self-esteem showed no decreased in social connectedness after being reminded of death, but only if they had received a light touch.

Click here to view the abstract online.