When thinking of our five senses, the four most popular ones come to mind: sight, hearing, smell, and taste.
But people don’t often realise how imperative touch can be to us, as humans, and how non-sexual touching at the correct time in the appropriate place can have a strong psychological effect.
Crusco & Wetzel (1984) carried out an experiment  on the effect touch has when in the natural but controlled environment of a restaurant. In the control group, customers were not touched by the waitress when receiving their change, but in the touch condition, the waitress lightly and briefly touched the customer’s shoulder or hand when returning their change.
The results of this experiment were fascinating: the customers in the touch group left a larger tip than those who were not touched at all by their waitress.
Experiments have been carried out to prove how lightly touching somebody can improve the chances of them helping the person who touched them. Hornik (1987) found that touching strangers in the street increased the rate of completing street surveys. In a later study by Gueguen (2003), participants were 90% more likely to pick up something an experimenter had dropped, after being touched lightly on the arm.
Similarly to the way in which touching the arm can get people to help you, it can also be linked to compliance. An experiment carried out by Willis and Hamm (1980)  proved how participants were more likely to sign a petition, after being touched lightly on their upper arm. 55% of the control group – who weren’t touched – signed the petition, whereas a staggering 81% of those in the touched group put their names down. This particular study looked at gender and difficulty of the request when determining the effect of touch.
Furthermore, those who were touched twice during Vaidis and Halimi-Falkowicz (2008)’s experiment were more likely to complete a survey than those who were only touched once.
Touch can often also be used to aggravate somebody and whilst taking onboard a number of factors. The appropriate level of touch depends greatly on culture, as well as gender. Dolinski (2010) carried out an experiment in Poland to determine the appropriate levels of physical contact, particularly in relation to male-to-male contact, which was received poorly in the experiment as men didn’t react well to being touched by another male.
It’s a well-known fact that touching somebody in a particular way can be seen as flirting and, not surprisingly, men show more of an interest in women who touch them than in those who do not. Similarly, women are more likely to give their phone number to a man in the street who has touched them than those who have not. Both studies were carried out by Gueguen (2010) in France.
Henley (1973) carried out an experiment by observing professionals in a busy city to determine power relationships and see how they’re affected by and shown through touch. The result wasn’t surprising in that those who were more likely to be the touchers were of a higher status than those who were being touched.
So whilst it isn’t entirely appropriate to go around touching everybody you meet, it can have some benefits if done properly in the correct situations. Bearing in mind every person, as well as each culture, have their own perceptions about what kind of touch is appropriate and what isn’t so always be aware of the other person’s reactions and body-language if you want to subtly try any of the above. Do you feel particularly affected by touch?
By Christina L.
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