Aleksandra Szymanska

Department: Social Design

‘Touch against Fear’

The thesis book is an ilustrated documentation of a research process that originates in a personal fascination with the phenomenon of phobia. My investigation begun with an exploration of the topic of anxiety. I con¬cluded that the main source of anxiety lies in the fact that we have lost the feeling of security that comes from a sense of belonging in a community. We feel distanced and
isolated from each other, disconnected.
I became particularly interested in individuals
who use sharing platforms like youtube to
create new informal types of support groups
by commenting on eachothers videos and
posts. We are being warned about the dangers
of society based on social media, how that
will distance us in our real physical life but it is important to realize that social media also connect us in new different ways. My research shows that the online environment can be the place to look for the sense of community we have lost in our physical surrounding.
The third element and my last fascination came when I was researching the way our body reacts to the sensation of fear. I have discovered a link between the act of touch and our experience of anxiety.
The hormone responsible for experiencing fear
in our brain and body is called cortisol. Its levels raise when we feel we are in danger and that causes feeling of anxiety and stress.
However, our or¬ganisms produce also a
hormone called oxytocin that is responsible for
lowering the levels of cortisol and relieving us from the sensation of fear. It can be released in response to a supportive touch - a hug, massage, holding hand or stroking with
finger¬tips. When we are being touched in a
pleasant way our levels of oxytocin rise, causing the cortisol level to drop and we become less afraid.

Touch is also the first language we learn as
infants and we use it for instinctive creation of bonds with other people. On a subconscious
level the more we touch someone, the more we
feel con-nected to them and so the more we
trust them.

These three fascinations: anxiety, sharing
platforms in the online environment and the
soothing ef¬fect of touch create the frame for
my thesis and lead to a the design proposal. It
is a system of objects allowing to transmit the
gesture of touch at a distance.
I see my project not only as a tool for dealing
with anxiety but also as an exploration of the new kind of bonds created between people in the
online environment and new forms of language
and interaction.

Copyright Design Academy Eindhoven

Copyright: Design Academy Eindhoven
Photographs: Astrid Zuidema