How do we know when something is wet?

Our skin contains lots of nerve endings
that respond to different stimuli. There are
receptors for touch, vibration, heat, cold and
pain – but not for wetness. Water is such a
ubiquitous component of all living cells that it
would be difficult for a nerve cell to avoid firing
constantly in response to its own composition.
Instead, wetness seems to be a property
that our nervous system learns to
recognise, based on a mixture of cold,
pressure and texture. A 2014 study at
Loughborough University found that hairy
skin is more sensitive to wetness than
smooth skin, which may be because hairy
skin has more temperature sensitive nerve
endings. When you are born, you don’t feel
wet or dry, you just feel cold or warm. Over
time we learn that the feeling of cold cloth
sticking to our skin means that we’ve sat on
a wet park bench.


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