Some Evidence for Benefits of Positive Touch Activities and Peer Massage for Children

Key Benefits:

  • Enhances Attentiveness
  • Enhances Social Interaction
  • Decreases Aggression
  • Reduces Anxiety
  • Reduces Stress Hormones

The Oxytocin Effect

Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, a Swedish researcher and author of The Oxytocin Factor, Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing believes that the feel-good effect of touch is linked with the release of oxytocin and other mood-enhancing chemicals during gentle massage. Kerstin suggests that this release of oxytocin into the bodies of those giving and receiving gentle touch could be one of the reasons why touch has such a positive impact on countering the detrimental effects of stress and anxiety on our physical, emotional and mental health and well-being.

The positive impact of oxytocin is now a key factor in research into the benefits of massage. We have compiled some of this research and also provided a list of sources for further research.

Some research studies of interest:

Massage therapy improves mood and behaviour of students with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder. Khilnani S., Field T, et al, (2003) Adolescence. Winter;38(152):623-38.

30 students between the ages of 7 and 18 years (M = 13 years) diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were randomly assigned to a massage group or a wait-list control group. The massage group received massage therapy for 20 minutes twice per week over the course of one month. The results revealed that massage therapy benefited students with ADHD by improving short-term mood state and longer-term classroom behavior.

Massage decreases aggression in preschool children: a long-term study. Knorring, A., Soderberg, A., Austin, L., Uvnas-Moberg, K. (2008).  Acta Paediatrica, 97, 1265-1269.

Aim: To evaluate the effects of massage in 4- to 5-year-old children with aggression and deviant behaviour at day-care centres in Sweden. 110 children took part from 9 day care centres. None had received massage before. 60 children received daily massage in preschool at the midday rest. Gentle massage to back and other parts chosen by children. The control group (50 children) listened to a story. The Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL) was used to rate the children’s behaviour by parents and staff before the treatment started, and after 3 and 6 months. A long-term evaluation was also carried out. It included all massaged children still in daycare after 12 months. After 3 months children with high scores of behaviour problems showed significant decrease in aggression scores. This was the same for those receiving massage and/or extra attention. After 6 months significantly lowered scores were found in massage-treated deviant children. Staff rated that the massaged children’s social problems decreased, compared to the control children. Attention problems tended to decrease, especially at home. A continuous decrease in aggressive behaviour over a 12-month period was observed in the children receiving massage.

Conclusion: Daily touching by massage lasting 5-10 minutes could be an easy and inexpensive way to decrease aggression among pre-school children.

Relaxation therapy reduces anxiety in child and adolescent psychiatric patients. Platania Solazzo, A., Field, T., Blank, J., Seligman, F., Kuhn, C., Schanberg, S., & Saab, P. (1992). . Acta Paedopsychiatrica, 55, 115-120.

Two groups were formed for the study; the control group watched a one hour of a relaxing videotape, while the treatment group participated in a one hour class consisting of yoga exercise, a brief massage, and progressive muscle relaxation. Decreases were noted in both self-reported anxiety and anxious behavior and fidgeting as well as increases in the positive effect of relaxation therapy, but not the videotape group. Cortisol decreased following both relaxation therapies.

An evaluation of the effectiveness of peer massage in a primary schoolDavies, Donna (2010). (Massage in Schools Association).

Peer massage is a growing practice in UK primary schools, currently taking place at around 1,000 establishments. Four classes in a Worcestershire Primary School took part in the summer term 2010. Two Year 1 and Two Year 6 classes participated with one class in each age group assigned to receive instruction and practice in peer massage, whilst the other received none. Pupils received scores for behavioural difficulties (emotional symptoms, hyperactivity/inattention, and peer relationships) and behavioural strengths. (pro-social behaviour). The combined scores for both years showed a marked improvement relation to difficulties, and also improvement for pro-social behaviour. Contrasting to deterioration in the control classes. This would suggest that peer massage contributed significantly to the overall behaviour and wellbeing of those children who received it.

A Journey of Self-Discovery: An Intervention Involving Massage, Yoga and Relaxation for Children with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties Attending Primary Schools, Powell, L., Gilchrist, M, & Stapley, J., European Journal of Special Needs Education, v23 n4 p403-412 Nov 2008

This study reports on an intervention involving massage, yoga and relaxation delivered to young children with identified emotional and behavioural difficulties, and at risk of exclusion. Children (n = 126) were invited by the head teacher to participate in the Self-discovery Programme (involving massage, yoga, breath work and relaxation) with parental consent. A total of 107 children aged 8-11 years were given consent by their parents to participate in the study and completed all measures. Children were allocated by the head teacher into the Control (n = 54) or Intervention (n = 53) Groups. The Control Group did not take part in the Self-discovery Programme. Both groups continued to receive any additional support provided. Results indicate that children in the Intervention Group showed improvements in self-confidence, social confidence, communication and contribution in the class.

Preschoolers’ cognitive performance improves following massage. Hart, S., Field, T., et al (1998).  Early Child Development & Care, 143, 59-64.

Preschoolers were given WPPSI subtests, including Block Design, Animal Pegs and Mazes, before and after receiving a 15-minute massage or reading stories with an experimenter. Results revealed that Performance on the Block Design improved following massage, and accuracy was greater on Animal Pegs in the massage group, particularly in more temperamental children.

Adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder benefit from massage therapy  Field, T, Quintino, O, et al .. 1998 Spring;33(129):103-8.

Twenty-eight adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were provided either massage therapy or relaxation therapy for 10 consecutive school days. The massage therapy group, but not the relaxation therapy group, rated themselves as happier and observers rated them as fidgeting less following the sessions. After the 2-week period, their teachers reported more time on task and assigned them lower hyperactivity scores based on classroom behavior.

Brief report: Improvements in the behaviour of children with autism following massage therapy. Escalona, A., Field, T., Singer-Strunk, R., Cullen, C., & Hartshorn, K. (2001). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 513-516.

Twenty children with autism, ages 3 to 6 years, were randomly assigned to massage therapy and reading attention control groups. Parents in the massage therapy group were trained by a massage therapist to massage their children for 15 minutes prior to bedtime every night for 1 month and the parents of the attention control group read Dr. Seuss stories to their children on the same time schedule. Conners Teacher and Parent scales, classroom and playground observations, and sleep diaries were used to assess the effects of therapy on various behaviors, including hyperactivity, stereotypical and off-task behavior, and sleep problems. The children in the massage group exhibited less stereotypic behavior and showed more on-task and social relatedness behavior during play observations at school, and they experienced fewer sleep problems at home.

Brief report: Autistic children’s attentiveness and responsivity improved after touch therapy. Field, T., Lasko, D., Mundy, P. & Henteleff, T., Kabot, S., Talpins, S. & Dowling, M. (1997)Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 27, 333-338.

22 autistic preschool children who had attended a special preschool half days for 2 years were assigned to 2 groups, touch therapy and a touch control group. Touch aversion decreased in both the touch therapy and the touch control groups, off-task behavior decreased in both groups, orienting to irrelevant sounds decreased in both groups, but significantly more in the touch therapy group.

‘Kiss, cuddle, squeeze’: the experiences and meaning of touch among parents of children with autism attending a Touch Therapy Programme. Cullen, L., & Barlow, J., Journal of Child Health Care. 2002 Sep;6(3):171-81.

The aim of this qualitative study was to explore the experiences and meaning of touch between parents and children with autism before and after attending a Touch Therapy Programme. The sample comprised 12 parents (1 father and 11 mothers) of children (1 female and 11 male) with autism. Parents were interviewed before and immediately after the 8-week programme. Pre-programme results suggested that children were controlling the experience of touch. Parents felt ‘hurt’ in response to the ‘aloof nature of autism, and natural parenting instincts (e.g. spontaneous cuddles) were restricted. Post-programme results suggested that children appeared to tolerate touch. Parents reported that routine tasks (e.g. dressing) were accomplished more easily and that children appeared generally more relaxed. Parents reported feeling ‘closer’ to their children and felt that the touch therapy had opened a communication channel between themselves and their children.

Links have been added to the above articles, but do search for yourself to find more information and research.  Here are some useful sources of research information: 

Touch Research Institute

Based in the USA, the Touch Research Institute has conducted over 100 studies on the positive effects of massage therapy on many functions and medical conditions in many different age groups. To learn more, and to access research abstracts relating to massage and touch therapies: Also study days in learning research skills. Visit

Research Council for Complementary Medicine (RCCM)

The RCCM is a charity dedicated to developing and promoting high quality research in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The RCCM works with the CAM professions and CAM researchers to disseminate knowledge and evidence on safe and effective complementary medicine in the context of an integrated approach to health care.

The site offers some very useful links to research and databases, plus information about funding and different research models. Also study days on learning research skills. Visit


PubMed can prove a useful starting point for therapists looking for research, as it provides abstracts for papers published in peer-reviewed journals, including many health and complementary therapy publications. Visit and simply type in your keywords (such as ‘massage’,‘children’,’dementia’)

Requesting research papers from your local library

In some libraries, it is possible to request single photocopies of most published research papers, providing this is for personal/ non-commercial use only.