|Little touches mean so much (source)|
It's a wonder then, that such a small amount of research has been conducted on touch, whereas a relatively high proportion of research has gone to vision or nutrition studies as two examples (I mean, can you imagine a university with a touchology department?). I'm not saying we shouldn't study nutrition. Instead, I'm arguing that what we need is more researchers interested in the study of tactile communication. Why you ask? Because this area of research is ripe for new discoveries. Read on!
Touch promotes trust and cooperation. One of the primary functions of touch is to promote trust and cooperation. For example, the insular cortex, a brain region active during physical touch is also activated during experiences of trust (to be fair, the insular cortex is also active during a number of positive and negative affective experiences). As Juli has mentioned in a previous post, touch is also linked to inferences of warmth and cooperation. For example, sensations of warmth from a hot coffee cup led participants to infer increased warmth and trust of a new interaction partner. That touch is implicated in trust suggests that it is vital for developing close relationships. Future research will determine how and why.
|Perhaps Michelangelo should have painted the hands touching?|
Touch is a language of communication. As I reported in a previous blog post. Physical touches from a stranger that you've never met before can communicate specific emotions such as compassion, fear, and anger-- at levels of accuracy that far-exceed chance. Touch is a language we know relatively little about!
|Touch: awkward and effective! (source)|
So why aren't you studying touch? I'd love to hear your "excuses" in the comments. ;)
Williams LE, & Bargh JA (2008). Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth. Science (New York, N.Y.), 322 (5901), 606-7 PMID: 18948544
Kraus MW, Huang C, & Keltner D (2010). Tactile communication, cooperation, and performance: an ethological study of the NBA. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10 (5), 745-9 PMID: 21038960
Coan JA, Schaefer HS, & Davidson RJ (2006). Lending a hand: social regulation of the neural response to threat. Psychological science, 17 (12), 1032-9 PMID: 17201784