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Unmasking The Mystery Of Why People Touch Their Faces

Why do our hands wander toward our faces: stroking chins, scratching eyebrows, rubbing noses? German researchers have discovered the neurology and psychology at play.

Fanny Jimenez

BERLIN — People constantly touch their faces. They stroke their chins or eyebrows, rub their noses or ears, cover their mouths or throats. We find it normal because everybody does it, but what does it mean?

Animals only touch themselves if there is an apparent reason to do so — for example, if a pesky insect is bothering them. Apes are the only exception. They too touch their faces, and anybody watching them would be unable to discern why.

This fact has puzzled scientists for over 200 years, mainly because the amount of touching increases when people or apes appear to be under stress.

Brain researchers working with Martin Grunwald at the University of Leipzig have succeeded in solving the puzzle. In the journal Brain Research, they report on many years of experimentation during which they analyzed the brain's electrical activity shortly before and after spontaneous face touching.

They discovered that touching changed electrical potentials in the brain, namely those having to do with storing information in working memory and emotional condition.

Shortly before touching the face, these parameters decreased. That means that working memory was overloaded, which is paired with a feeling of emotional overload. But after research subjects touched their faces, the parameters increased again.

Their conclusion is that spontaneous face-touching helps to regulate cognitive overload and stress. This "self-stimulation," as the Leipzig researchers call it, balances out disturbances in processing information and emotional swings.

What is still unclear is just why touching our faces has these particular effects.

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Livestream Shopping Is Huge In China — Will It Fly Elsewhere?

Streaming video channels of people shopping has been booming in China, and is beginning to win over customers abroad as a cheap and cheerful way of selling products to millions of consumers glued to the screen.

A A female volunteer promotes spring tea products via on-line live streaming on a pretty mountain surrounded by tea plants.

In Beijing, selling spring tea products via on-line live streaming.

Xinhua / ZUMA
Gwendolyn Ledger

SANTIAGO — TikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has spent more than $500 million to break into online retailing. The app, best known for its short, comical videos, launched TikTok Shop in August, aiming to sell Chinese products in the U.S. and compete with other Chinese firms like Shein and Temu.

Tik Tok Shop will have three sections, including a live or livestream shopping channel, allowing users to buy while watching influencers promote a product.

This choice was strategic: in the past year, live shopping has become a significant trend in online retailing both in the U.S. and Latin America. While still an evolving technology, in principle, it promises good returns and lower costs.

Chilean Carlos O'Rian Herrera, co-founder of Fira Onlive, an online sales consultancy, told América Economía that live shopping has a much higher catchment rate than standard website retailing. If traditional e-commerce has a rate of one or two purchases per 100 visits to your site, live shopping can hike the ratio to 19%.

Live shopping has thrived in China and the recent purchases of shopping platforms in some Latin American countries suggests firms are taking an interest. In the United States, live shopping generated some $20 billion in sales revenues in 2022, according to consultants McKinsey. This constituted 2% of all online sales, but the firm believes the ratio may become 20% by 2026.

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