Skip to main content
The Power of Touch

Dr. Tiffany Field plays a hands-on role in promoting the health benefits of physical contact
Animated illustration of a woman lying in a bed of flowers

Illustration by Nicole Xu


The first time Tiffany Field, Ph.D., came in contact with the University of Miami was viewing it from the water as she passed by on a two-year sailing excursion more than four decades ago. “I recall sailing through Miami and loving the weather here,” Dr. Field said. “Little did I know I would receive a faculty position at UM after completing my degree.”

Dr. Field ultimately returned to dry land and earned her degree in psychology at the University of Massachusetts. She began her career as an occupational therapist, later becoming a psychotherapist. It wasn’t until she saw the effect touch had on premature babies that her career focused on touch therapy.

“A simple touch can lead to positive changes, since pressure receptors are more insulated than those related to pain,” Dr. Field explained. “A sense of touch goes faster to the brain, slowing down nerves, decreasing stress hormones and providing deeper sleep.” Studying touch led to hundreds of publications and millions of dollars in research funding to see how touch affects premature babies, people with HIV, burn victims and others. The establishment of the Touch Research Institute, which Dr. Field directs, in the Miller School’s Department of Pediatrics in 1992, further elevated the mission of her work.

“Simply put, everyone needs a daily dose of something that moves the skin to stimulate these receptors,” Dr. Field said. “We live in an era where Americans are touch-deprived, receiving fewer hugs, massages and physical affection compared to other countries.” Even during the pandemic, as loved ones were closer in isolation, 68% of Americans were touch-deprived despite 47% living with others, she said. Research showed that only 32% are touching their partner “a lot,” but 98% of individuals are on social media.

That’s why Dr. Field continues to promote the value of touch. Recently, she took part in panels and interviews for Global Massage Makes Me Happy and Healthy Day, a worldwide initiative founded in 2018 and held this year on March 20, to which she contributed the “and healthy” portion of its name. “An hour before one of the major meetings, I had an outdoor massage,” Dr. Field said. “I walked in saying, ‘I’m probably the happiest one here.’”