10 Psychological Effects of Nonsexual Touch.
Psychological research on how a simple (nonsexual) touch can increase compliance, helping behaviour, attraction, and signal power.
To get around in the world, we mainly rely on our eyes and ears. Touch is a sense that’s often forgotten.
But touch is also vital in the way we understand and experience the world. Even the lightest touch on the upper arm can influence the way we think. To prove it, here are 10 psychological effects which show just how powerful nonsexual touch can be.
1. Touch for money
A well-timed touch can encourage other people to return a lost item. In one experiment, users of a phone booth who were touched were more likely to return a lost dime to an experimenter (Kleinke, 1977). The action was no more than a light touch on the arm.
People will do more than that though; people will give a bigger tip to a waitress who has touched them (Crusco & Wetzel, 1984).
(Stop giggling at the back there!)
2. Touch for help
People are also more likely to provide help when touched. In one study, strangers who were touched lightly on the arm were more likely to help an experimenter pick up things they had dropped (Gueguen, 2003). The percentage of people who helped went up from 63% to 90%.
3. Touch for compliance
The power of a light touch on the upper arm often extends more broadly to compliance.
In a study by Willis and Hamm (1980), participants were asked to sign a petition. While 55% of those not touched agreed to sign it, this went up to 81% of those participants touched once on the upper arm. A second study asked people to fill in a questionnaire. The same touch increased compliance from 40% to 70%.
4. Touch twice for more compliance
And you can increase compliance with a second light touch on the arm.
Vaidis and Halimi-Falkowicz (2008) tried this out when asking people in the street to complete a questionnaire.
Those touched twice were more likely to complete the questionnaire than those touched once. The effects were strongest when men were touched by a female surveyor.
5. Or, touch for a fight!
However, the acceptability of touch, especially between men, depends a lot on culture.
When Dolinski (2010) carried out a compliance experiment in Poland, he got quite different results for men and women. In Poland men asked to do the experimenter a favour reacted badly to a light touch on the arm. This seemed to be related to higher levels of homophobia. Women, however, still reacted positively to touch.
6. Touch to sell your car
Unlike Poland, France has a contact culture and touching is acceptable between two men. So French researchers Erceau and Gueguen (2007) approached random men at a second-hand car market. Half were touched lightly on the arm for 1 second, the other half weren’t.
Afterwards those who had been touched rated the seller as more sincere, friendly, honest, agreeable and kind. Not bad for a 1-second touch. We can safely assume the results would have been quite different in Poland!
7. Touch for a date
You won’t be surprised to hear that men show more interest in a woman who has lightly touched them. But here’s the research anyway: Gueguen (2010) found men easily misinterpreted a light nonsexual touch on the arm as a show of sexual interest.
Perhaps more surprisingly women also responded well to a light touch on the arm when being asked for their phone number by a man in the street (Gueguen, 2007). This may be because women associated a light 1 or 2-second touch with greater dominance.