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Ask Andrew: Is it true humans can't feel 'wetness?'

Researchers found that humans are not equipped with skin humidity receptors, meaning the feeling of wetness has more to do with temperature.

MOLINE, Ill. — I'm no biology or neuroscience expert, but it was interesting to find this particular question sitting in the "Ask Andrew" pile today dealing with our perception of wetness. We deal with that feeling in the world of weather, from rain to humidity. The information I found was quite fascinating! Let's dig in.

Is it true that humans can't actually feel "wetness"?

It's true! Well, mostly. Believe it or not, the first study of our perception of wetness dates back to more than 100 years ago. It's a complicated subject because after all, you are talking about perception, or how someone feels. 

Insects have it easy. Scientists have found that they do indeed already have built-in humidity receptors, known as hygroreceptors, which help them more easily adapt to their environment. 

With humans, it's believed that we "learn" to perceive a feeling of wetness when our skin comes in contact with a wet surface, or when we sweat, because of differences in temperature. 

We experience varying levels of heat transfer several times per day. Anytime we touch an object, we are transferring heat to the object from our body's touch point, or heat is being transferred away from the object we are touching. It's this heat transfer that researchers believe helps us identify when we are touching something that feels wet. 

Credit: Storyblocks.com
Researchers have found that differences in temperature drive our feeling of wetness.

Studies involved used both cold and warm objects with varying degrees of wetness. Researchers also found that hairy skin was more sensitive to detecting wetness levels vs the skin on our fingertips! 

In the end, a conclusion was made that it is not the contact of our skin with moisture, but rather a combination of different sensory inputs, including temperature, that drives our perception of skin wetness. Who knew?

You can read the complete study and publication, here

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