The power of touch - Four extraordinary effects cover image

The power of touch - Four extraordinary effects

Dorian Minors • July 31, 2015

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

Human contact is an amazing thing. Just touching someone can have extraordinary effects on people. It's been shown to release all sorts of chemicals and have all sorts of cognitive effects. In this article, we list four of the most powerful effects that touch can have.

Power

We'll begin with the article's namesake. Touch has been associated before with higher status. Observations of those who tend to be more touchy-feely, tend also to be positioned in a more dominant place in society. But this leads to a chicken/egg question, because we also see that those who are more touchy-feely are rated as probably having more status even when participants don't know what they do for a living. So does having more power create more touchiness? Or does being more touchy shoot you up the ladder faster?

Obedience

You'll do what you're told if you're touched in the right way. The addition of touch to requests sees about a 30% increase in compliance in a lab setting (in several studies). Touch someone twice, and you get even more! Now, experiments always make things a little contrived, so the effect probably isn't quite as huge in real life, but certainly has interesting implications for how we react to the power of touch.

Eloquence

Do you struggle to share your feelings? Don't worry, we all do. Feelings are such intangible things (even psychologists have a hard time defining them). But the power of touch can be an incredible aid to our ability to communicate. One recent study found that by a simple touch on the forearm, and with no other communication , participants could recognise 12 distinct emotions as often as research indicates we can tell the difference by looking at someone's face (about 65% of the time)!

Sex

Nick Guéguen (the same guy who found the one phrase that literally doubles your persuasiveness) has done quite a lot of research on the power of touch and romance. He found that both men and women find each other more attractive and are more likely to show interest (or give out their number), when given a light touch on the arm.

 Last word

So, human touch can have extraordinary effects on us. But the interesting thing, is that for it to be most effective, a light touch is better. The more heavy-handed the touch, the less of an effect is has. I suppose, as Bruce Springsteen put it, we:

just want something to hold on to And a little of that human touch

Want to know other things that can influence you in bizarre ways? Learn how information from a dodgy source will actually convince you MORE. Or learn how an odd little brain quirk makes you vulnerable to being screwed over by scam-artist psychics (not to say all psychics are scam artists). Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and 'the good life' at The Dirt Psychology.

Turning scholarship into wisdom we can use at The Armchair Collective.

Questions? Comments? Comment sections are a pain to moderate. But this inbox is always read, so send an email. You'll get a reply. Your question might even get a whole article of its own.

More articles? View them all, or check these out:

Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.