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That human touch that means so much: Exploring the tactile dimension of social life

Authors:

Abstract

Interpersonal touch is a fundamental but undervalued aspect of human nature. In the present article, the authors review psychological research showing that even fleeting forms of touch may have a powerful impact on our emotional and social functioning. Given its significant beneficial effects, touch may be valuable as a therapeutic or health-promoting tool.
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RUNNING HEAD: Human Touch and Social Life
That Human Touch That Means So Much:
Exploring the Tactile Dimension of Social Life
Mandy Tjew A Sin Sander L. Koole
Leiden University VU University Amsterdam
Draft: November 1, 2012.
Main text: 2,836 words
AUTHOR NOTE
Mandy Tjew A Sin and Sander L. Koole, Department of Clinical Psychology, VU University
Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The authors thank Hans IJzerman, Thomas Schubert, Robert
Goodier, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on a previous version of this
article. Address correspondence to Sander L. Koole, Department of Clinical Psychology, VU
University Amsterdam, van der Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BT, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Email:
SL.Koole@psy.vu.nl.
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Keywords: interpersonal touch, emotion regulation, social bonding, mediated touch
Interpersonal touch is a fundamental but undervalued aspect of human nature. In the present
article, the authors review psychological research showing that even fleeting forms of touch may
have a powerful impact on our emotional and social functioning. Given its significant beneficial
effects, touch may be valuable as a therapeutic or health-promoting tool.
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That Human Touch That Means So Much:
Exploring the Tactile Dimension of Social Life
No one wants to live alone
Who wants to smile, laugh, or cry alone
Have we lost the touch that means so much
Have we lost the human touch
From Human Touch, performed by Nina Simone (written by Charles Reuben)
Ever had cold feet at night? People had a remarkable solution to this problem in the
Middle Ages. Many nobles in medieval Europe had large beds that allowed a noble, his wife,
their children, some servants, and his knights to sleep together in the dead of winter (Lacroix &
Naunton, 2010). If this sleeping arrangement sounds a little too cozy, this is probably because
modern people like you and I have come to regard the practice of sleeping together with one’s
entire household as shameful and uncivilized. Indeed, over the centuries, various forms of
interpersonal touch have become less and less common, squelched under an onslaught of
changing cultural values and new technology. We increasingly view touch as unhygienic and
even invasive, as in the case of sexual harassment, for example. And sequestering ourselves
behind phones and laptop screens has only exacerbated the trend.
Given that interpersonal touch is increasingly becoming a scarce commodity, it is
important to ask how touch influences our lives. Why is touching and being touched by others so
important to us? New research suggests that even fleeting forms of touch may have a powerful
impact on our emotional and social functioning. For instance, people can communicate distinct
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emotions such as anger or sadness through touch. Moreover, people who are touched briefly on
the arm or shoulder are more likely to comply with requests such as volunteering for charity
activities. These findings could have far-ranging implications for the role of touch in everyday
life and point to important applications in therapy and virtual communication.
The Emotional Power of Touch
Whether we get a friendly slap on the back, a sensual caress, or a loving kiss --
interpersonal touch has a powerful impact on our emotions. In fact, our skin contains receptors
that directly elicit emotional responses, through stimulation of erogenous zones or nerve endings
that respond to pain (Auvray, Myin, & Spence, 2010; Hertenstein & Campos, 2001).
Furthermore, research by Matthew Hertenstein, director of the Touch and Emotion Lab at
DePauw University, has shown that touch may communicate distinct emotions (Hertenstein,
Keltner, App, Bulleit, & Jaskolka, 2006). Hertenstein and his associates asked pairs of
participants to sit at a table with a curtain between them, so that they were unable to see one
another. One of the participants, the encoder, was asked to communicate distinct emotions (e.g.
anger, disgust, fear, sympathy) by touching the other person’s arm. The person being touched,
the decoder, was asked to identify the communicated emotion from a number of response
options. Although they could neither see nor talk to each other, the participants were able to
encode and decode distinct emotions such as anger, fear and disgust at above-chance levels.
The emotional impact of interpersonal touch is ingrained in our biology. Indeed, there is
some direct evidence that, in mammalian species, touch triggers the release of oxytocin, a
hormone that decreases stress-related responses. Researchers first tested this idea by stroking
rats’ abdomens for 30-45 seconds. They found that this type of soft touch raised rats’ oxytocin
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levels (Ågren, Lundeberg, Uvnäs-Moberg, & Sato, 1995). Interpersonal touch can also induce
oxytocin release among humans. For instance, in one experiment, couples who engaged in a
warm touch exercise, during which they touched each other's neck, shoulders, and hands, had
more oxytocin in their saliva than couples who did not engage in this exercise (Holt-Lunstad,
Birmingham, & Light, 2008). Likewise, women who report frequent partner hugs display higher
levels of oxytocin in their blood than women who report few partner hugs (Light, Grewen, &
Amico, 2005). The oxytocin-enhancing effects of touch may reduce the discomfort that people
experience from everyday stressors, such as family turmoil or conflict at work (Di Simplicio,
Massey-Chase, Cowen, & Harmer, 2009; Taylor, 2006).
In the early 1950s, American psychologist Harry Harlow provided a dramatic
demonstration of the importance of touch in coping. Harlow set out to study the effect that
separation from their mothers has on children by conducting a range of controversial
experiments with baby Rhesus monkeys. Harlow raised the baby monkeys in isolation in a cage
that contained two surrogate “mothers” – one made of metal wire and the other wrapped in
terrycloth. Although the wire mother contained a bottle from which the monkeys could nurse, the
monkeys would cling to the terrycloth mother when they were frightened, even when this led
them to dehydrate and starve. Harlow's monkeys were apparently hungry for something other
than food: They were literally starving for a warm, comforting touch. With these studies, Harlow
was the first to show that intimate body contact, and not feeding, was the most important factor
in mother-child bonding.
Harlow conducted his ground-breaking (and arguably cruel) experiments after reading a
World Health Organization report on the detrimental effect of institutionalization. This report
was written by the British psychiatrist John Bowlby, a pioneering researcher who developed
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attachment theory (Bowlby, 1973). Attachment theory suggests that touch from sensitive
caregivers allows infants to feel safe and secure, and thus forms the basis of securely attached
relationships later in life. Developmental research has supported these notions. For instance,
mothers' nurturing touch was found to foster more secure attachment in low birth weight infants
nine months later (Weiss, Wilson, Hertenstein, & Campos, 2000). Furthermore, infants who were
tenderly held by their mothers and for longer periods of time
were more securely attached than infants who were held
reluctantly or awkwardly (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall,
1978). Thus, early nurturing touch from caregivers plays a key
role in shaping children's emotional security.%
The soothing effects of touch likely remain important in adulthood. There is growing
evidence that touch from a romantic partner buffers us against stress. For instance, happily
married women who are holding their husband's hand have smaller threat-related neural
responses than when they are holding the hand of a stranger or do not engage in handholding
(Coan, Schaefer, & Davidson, 2006). People may also obtain the comforting effects of touch
from non-romantic relationships, and even with non-human animals such as pets (McConnell,
Brown, Stayton, & Martin, 2011). Even inanimate objects appear to have an effect. Some
fascinating experiments have shown that people recover more quickly from social rejection when
they are holding a teddy bear on their lap (Tai, Zheng, & Narayanan, 2011).
Soft touch does not always have comforting effects. Jonathan Levav of Columbia
University and Jennifer Argo of the University of Alberta (2010) found that a female’s light,
comforting pat on the shoulder increased feelings of security. However, this calming effect did
not occur when individuals were touched by a male and was weaker when the touch consisted of
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a handshake. This finding suggests that gentle touch by non-threatening individuals is most
likely to have beneficial effects. Touch is also less likely to have beneficial effects when it
violates cultural, social, or personal norms. For instance, uninvited touch from a stranger is often
perceived as intrusive or threatening (Thayer, 1986). Likewise, touching the waist area is only
appropriate in the context of a strong bond or close relationship (Lee & Guerrero, 2001). Finally,
some people generally dislike being touched (Wilhelm, Kochar, Roth, & Gross, 2001).
The Social Power of Touch
Beyond regulating our emotions, interpersonal touch may also regulate our social
relationships. Cultural anthropologist Alan Page Fiske (1991, 2004) has elaborated on the social
significance of touch. According to Fiske, touch is a key element of a communal sharing
relationship, a relationship that occurs in all cultures between mothers and their children, and
among members of a group with a shared identity. When people engage in communal sharing,
they implicitly assume that their bodies share a common substance, which could be real,
imagined, or implied. Interpersonal touch (but also other activities like joint eating or dancing)
indicates the presence of a communal sharing relationship by referring to the sharing of a
common substance.
If Fiske is correct, touch may render people more willing to share resources. April Crusco
of the University of Mississippi and Christopher Wetzel of Rhodes College (1984) conducted a
famous test of this idea, in which they examined the effects of touch on tipping behaviour. They
conducted the research among diners of two restaurants in a small college town in the American
south, where one of three waitresses served the diners. After a waitress collected a diner's
money, she went to get change (in the early 1980s, most people presumably paid in cash). At this
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point, the researchers instructed the waitresses to touch the diners briefly on the shoulder or the
palm of the hand, or to not touch the diners at all. The results showed that diners who were
touched by the waitress left between 18% and 36% more tips than diners who were not touched,
a pronounced difference that was statistically reliable. These beneficial effects of a brief touch
have since been observed for many other behaviors, such as signing a petition (Willis & Hamm,
1980), returning lost money (Kleinke, 1977), helping to pick up dropped items (Guéguen &
Fischer-Lokou, 2003), volunteering for charity (Goldman, Kiyohara, & Pfannensteil, 1985), and
looking after a dog (Guéguen & Fischer-Lokou, 2002).
Some particularly provocative studies have examined the effects of touch on courtship
behavior. One study (Guéguen, 2007, Experiment 1) took place in a French nightclub. During
slow romantic songs, an attractive 20-year-old male went up to a young woman and said, "Hello.
My name is Antoine. Do you want to dance?". When he made his request, the man either
touched the woman lightly on her forearm or refrained from touching her. While 43% of the
women who were not touched accepted the invitation, 65% of the women who were touched
agreed to dance. In a parallel study, an attractive male tried to obtain phone numbers from young
women on the street. Of the women who were not touched, 10% provided their phone number,
compared to 19% of the women who were touched (Guéguen, 2007, Experiment 2). These
findings suggest that touch can be a powerful catalyst of romantic liaisons.
Equally notable are findings that touch can motivate people to work harder on shared
tasks (e.g., Steward & Lupfer, 1987; Guéguen, 2004). One recent study on this topic examined
touches exchanged between members of basketball teams (Kraus, Huang, & Keltner, 2010). The
researchers observed touch behaviors of 294 players from all 30 National Basketball Association
(NBA) teams during one game that was played within the first two months of the 2008-2009
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season. The focus was on touches among two or more players who were celebrating a positive
play that helped their team, including behaviors such as high fives, head slaps, or team huddles.
The researchers then related the frequency of these touches to basketball performance during the
subsequent NBA season. The results showed that early season touch predicted season
performance. This relation held even when the researchers statistically controlled for player
salary, preseason expectations, and early season performance. Indeed, the only measure that
could account for the relation between touch and performance was the amount of cooperation
that was observed during the game. These findings suggest that touch among basketball players
is a strong indicator of trusting and cooperative attitudes, which may facilitate team performance.%
The prosocial tendencies induced by touch may sometimes
have harmful effects. In cultures that encourage recklessness and
irresponsibility, touch may amplify the destructive behavior. One
study showed that customers in US public taverns who were
briefly touched by a waitress ordered more drinks and consumed
more alcohol than customers who were not touched (Kaufman & Mahoney, 1999). Another
recent study showed that men playing an investment game made riskier decisions after a woman
pat them lightly on the shoulder (Levav & Argo, 2010). Interpersonal touch may thus lead people
to pursue riskier strategies, particularly when these strategies are socially sanctioned.
Although touch may smooth social interactions and help people bond with others, people
may feel unnerved when others get too familiar with them in a purely professional setting
(Leander, Chartrand & Bargh, 2012). Thus, the social benefits of touch are likely to materialize
only in appropriate situations.
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Conclusions and Outlook
Although psychologists have learned a great deal about the significance of touch, the
scientific inquiry of touch is still in its infancy. One important complexity that has yet to be
addressed is that touch is inherently a multisensory experience. During interpersonal touch, we
typically experience tactile stimulation, but also changes in warmth, along with changes in what
we see, hear, and smell. Nevertheless, inputs from other senses can have independent effects. For
instance, merely being in a warm room or holding a warm drink can make people feel closer to
others compared to when they are in a cold room or holding a cold drink (Williams & Bargh,
2008; see also IJzerman & Saddlemeyer, in press). More research is needed to establish whether
and how warmth and other sensory experiences like smell, sounds, and vision contribute to the
effects of touch (see Paladino, Mazzurega, Pavani, & Schubert, 2010, for a pioneering study on
this topic).
Other important questions relate to the role of culture. Culture regulates how easily we
can access interpersonal touch, by determining who is allowed to be touched by whom, which
parts of the body can be touched, what touch means, how touch is ritualized in greetings (e.g.,
whether we kiss or shake hands with our friends), and so on. However, it is unclear to what
degree we can attribute the influence of touch to psychological factors. As we have seen, some
of the effects of touch are physiological, such as the release of oxytocin, and they are part of our
biological hardware. These physiological processes may be resistant to cultural constraints. For
instance, one study showed that individuals who consider touch inappropriate may still show
physiological benefits from touch (Wilhelm et al., 2001). However, evidence of this kind
remains limited. More research is therefore needed before we can draw firm conclusions about
the role of culture in determining the physiological effects of touch.%%
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Despite these limitations, insights from touch
research could have many real-world applications. For
instance, touch-based therapies may be useful in treating
deficiencies in perspective taking (i.e. perceiving someone
else’s thoughts and feelings), one of the core symptoms of
autistic spectrum disorder (Baron-Cohen & Belmonte,
2005). Given that oxytocin (which is released upon touch) improves perspective-taking abilities
among high-functioning autistics (Guastella et al., 2010; Hollander et al., 2007), touch-based
interventions might be helpful to autistic individuals (see Escalona, Field, Singer-Strunck,
Cullen, & Hartshorn, 2001). More broadly speaking, interpersonal touch may support health-
promoting behaviors by enhancing compliance. Indeed, one study showed that when service staff
at a home for the elderly touched the patients while verbally encouraging them to eat, these
patients consumed more calories and protein up to five days after the touch (Eaton, Mitchell-
Bonair, & Friedmann, 1986; for related findings, see Guéguen & Vion, 2009).
Incorporating interpersonal touch in educational and health systems may sometimes be
difficult. Educators and health professionals may fear malpractice and abuse charges (Field,
2001). Moreover, some individuals may prefer not to be touched, even when they might derive
benefits from it (Wilhelm et al., 2001). Consequently, it seems useful to look for technological
substitutes for interpersonal touch. The emerging fields of mediated social touch (Haans &
IJsselsteijn, 2006) and affective haptics (Tsetserukou, Neviarouskaya, Prendinger, Kawakami, &
Tachi, 2009) study and design haptic devices and systems that can elicit, enhance, or influence
people's emotions. These efforts have produced devices that can mimic aspects of interpersonal
touch, such as the "Huggy Pajama", a haptic jacket that gives wearers the tactile sensations of a
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hug whenever a sender hugs a doll-shaped device (Keng et al., 2008). Preliminary evidence
suggests that at least some of the behavioral effects of mediated touch parallel the effects of
interpersonal touch (Haans & IJsselsteijn, 2009).
French novelist Michel Houellebecq (1998) envisioned a future in which all contact
between people is mediated by technology. As such, one might wonder if haptic technology can
ever replace interpersonal touch. Is being hugged by a haptic jacket as valuable as being hugged
by a human being? Will the ultimate high-tech society be completely devoid of human touch?
Though provocative, these questions may be largely beside the point. In the foreseeable future,
the main use of haptic technology lies not in replacing human touch. Rather, haptic technology
provides touch experiences for individuals who will otherwise remain touch-deprived. For
instance, individuals with social anxiety, who find it awkward to be touched by people, may find
it acceptable to wear a haptic jacket. Likewise, haptic technology may allow parents to hug their
children while at work or traveling. New technological developments may thus enable greater
numbers of individuals to reap the social and emotional benefits of interpersonal touch.
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Glossary:
Affective haptics is a novel area of research that focuses on the study and design of devices and
systems that can elicit, enhance, or influence human emotional states by using the sense of touch.
Attachment theory%describes the dynamics of long-term relationships between humans. Its
most important tenet is that an infant needs to develop a secure bond with at least one primary
caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a broad category of psychological conditions characterized by
abnormalities in social interactions and communication, stereotyped or repetitive behaviors and
interests, and/or cognitive delays. It includes both high-functioning individuals with mild
symptoms of autism (often called Asperger’s Syndrome) and individuals with more severe
symptoms, such as severe to profound mental retardation.
A cultural anthropologist belongs to a branch of the social sciences that studies cultural
variation among humans.
A communal sharing relationship is a type of social relationship in which members implicitly
assume that their bodies share a common substance that binds them together. This relationship is
typically found among close kin or members of a group with a salient shared identity.
Coping is the process of managing taxing circumstances, and seeking to reduce or tolerate
stress or conflict.
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Developmental research involves the social and mental development of human beings over the
course of their life span.
Haptic sensory information includes both tactile sensations that are mediated by the skin, and
kinesthetic sensations based on body position and movement, and muscular tensions.
A haptic jacket is a garment worn on the upper body that can simulate haptic sensations by
using mechanical stimulation (for instance, from vibrating motors or heating elements) to
simulate the sensation of being touched.
High-functioning autism is an informal term that is often applied to autistic individuals who
are not cognitively impaired (i.e. have an average or higher than average IQ).
Oxytocin is a mammalian hormone secreted by the posterior pituitary gland, which is located
near the base of the brain. It is known for stimulating contractions of the uterus during labor and
then the production of milk. Recently, studies have confirmed oxytocin’s role in pair bonding
and maternal behaviors.
Perspective-taking refers to the ability to perceive someone else’s thoughts, feelings, and
motivations.
Human physiological processes pertain to the physical and chemical factors and processes
involved in the functions of living persons and their parts.
Physiological benefits improve the processes and functions of (parts of) the body.
According to relational models theory, people are inherently social animals who organize their
lives in terms of their relationships with others. These relationships are culture-specific
implementations of four types of basic social bonds. Communal sharing is one type of such a
bond.
Tactile means “pertaining to the sense of touch”. Tactile experiences are one type of haptic
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sensory information.
Threat-related neural responses pertain to activations of neurons in the brain that are evoked
by threatening situations.
Touch-based therapies such as massage therapy use the beneficial effects of touch to treat
health problems or psychological disorders.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that
seeks to coordinate international health activities and to help set evidence-based policy standards
through research and health trend assessment.
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mother’s caregiving: Implications for attachment of low birth weight infants. Infant
Behavior and Development, 23, 91–111.
Wilhelm, F. H., Kochar, A. S., Roth, W. T., & Gross, J. J. (2001). Social anxiety and response to
touch: Incongruence between self-evaluative and physiological reactions. Biological
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neurodevelopment of low birth weight infants. Infancy, 5, 85-101.
Willis, F., & Hamm, H., (1980). The use of interpersonal touch in securing compliance. Journal
of Nonverbal Behavior, 5, 49–55.
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Biographies:
Mandy Tjew A Sin obtained her Research Master’s degree in
Social and Organisational Psychology and Cognitive
Neuroscience at Leiden University, The Netherlands. She was
recently awarded a grant from the Netherlands Organisation for
Scientific Research to examine the effects of belonging on the
academic performance of minority students. She also conducts
research on the effects of (simulated) touch on social cognition.
Sander L. Koole is an Associate Professor at the VU University
in Amsterdam. His research focuses on emotion regulation and
action control. He has recently received a grant from the
European Research Council to conduct research on the role of
the body in emotion regulation.
... Additionally, it is not uncommon for a pastor, priest or other church leader to interact with members of the congregation, with a hand shake, before they leave the facility. That can be an important gesture in that a touch can be reassuring to people who are alone, afraid, hurting, and anxious (Sin & Koole, 2013). ...
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This article provides an in-depth discussion of social distancing and its socio-behavioral implications on church gatherings in the era of COVID-19. We posit that social distancing has redefined, reshaped, and reconfigured Christian religious gatherings in a way that was hitherto unimagined. The unintended consequences (positive and negative) indicate that social distancing has impacted church gatherings in some positive ways such as reducing the spread of COVID-19 among congregants, and enabling technological innovations for virtual Church services and programs. Conversely, social distancing has negatively impacted the social cohesion and overall social capital value of churches, and imprinted a long lasting disruptions to age-long ecclesiological identities, denominational practices, and liturgies of contemporary churches. We utilized Game Theory as the theoretical scaffold of our propositions. In addition we delineated the implications of social distancing on Christian religious gathering during pandemics such as COVID-19 and lessons from a socio-behavioral perspective for religious institutions.
... 11 In humans, there may be comparable strategies to reduce the energetic costs of thermoregulation. Most of the research efforts in humans on huddling (which in humans focuses on touch) to date however have been dedicated to other (related) areas of research, such as social judgment (Erceau and Guéguen, 2007), prosocial behaviors (Crusco and Wetzel, 1984;Hornik and Ellis, 1988;Field, 2010), valence of affect (Vallbo and Johansson, 1984), and emotional communication (Hertenstein et al., 2006(Hertenstein et al., , 2009; for reviews, see Gallace and Spence, 2010;Tjew-A-Sin and Koole, 2013). ...
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Beyond breathing, the regulation of body temperature—thermoregulation—is one of the most pressing concerns for many animals. A dysregulated body temperature has dire consequences for survival and development. Despite the high frequency of social thermoregulation occurring across many species, little is known about the role of social thermoregulation in human (social) psychological functioning. We outline a theory of social thermoregulation and reconsider earlier research on people’s expectations of their social world (i.e., attachment) and their prediction of the social world. We provide support and outline a research agenda that includes consequences for individual variation in self-regulatory strategies and capabilities. In our paper, we discuss physiological, neural, and social processes surrounding thermoregulation. Emphasizing social thermoregulation in particular, we appeal to the economy of action principle and the hierarchical organization of human thermoregulatory systems. We close with future directions of a crucial aspect of human functioning: The social regulation of body temperature.This paper was published in Frontiers:IJzerman, H., Coan, J. A., Wagemans, F. M., Missler, M. A., van Beest, I., Lindenberg, S., & Tops, M. (2015). A theory of social thermoregulation in human primates. Frontiers in psychology, 6.
... In effect, houses help us thermoregulate in comparable ways as our relationships. While in older times, people could resolve being cold by sleeping with many in one bed (Lacroix & Nauton, 2010;Tjew-a-Sin & Koole, 2013), a houseinstead of other peopleprovides ample and stable warmth through its central heater, blankets, and other furniture, and by serving as a place where we eat warm food, snuggle our cat, take a warm bath, or sit by the fireplace. ...
Article
House brokers typically intuit that any type of warmth causes people to buy houses more frequently. Is this empirical reality? The authors investigated this through people's attachment towards advertised houses. A wealth of research has now linked thermoregulation to relationships (cf. IJzerman et al., 2015), and here the authors purport that this extends to people's relationships with house as a more novel solution to an ancient problem: shielding from the cold. The present package tests a preregistered idea that colder temperatures increase people's need to affiliate and, in turn, increase people's estimations of how homely a house is (measured through communality). The hypotheses of the first two studies were partly right: the authors only found that actual lower temperatures (not motivation and through a cup and outside temperature) induced people to find a house more communal, predicted by their need to affiliate. Importantly, this even predicts whether people find the house more attractive, and increases their willingness to pay for the house (Studies 1 and 2). The third study did not pan out as predicted, but still affected people's need to affiliate. The authors reason that this was caused by a methodological shortcoming (namely not as strongly being affected by temperature). The present work provides novel insights into how a house becomes a home.
... In conclusion, previous studies have shown an encouraging effect of interpersonal touch in educational and health settings, but this study is one of the first to show that simulated interpersonal touch may have a similar effect, especially among people who are sensitive to triggers of intrinsic motivation. Thus, our findings help inform how touch can be further utilized as a motivating and health-promoting tool [35]. In recent times, interpersonal touch has been increasingly perceived as an ethical or risk management issue to be avoided, and educational and healthcare professionals may fear that their use of touch is misinterpreted or considered inappropriate. ...
Article
The error-related negativity (ERN or Ne) is a negative event-related brain potential that peaks about 20 to 100ms after people perform an incorrect response in choice reaction time tasks. Prior research has shown that the ERN may be enhanced by situational and dispositional factors that promote intrinsic motivation. Building on and extending this work the authors hypothesized that simulated interpersonal touch may increase task engagement and thereby increase ERN amplitude. To test this notion, 20 participants performed a Go/No-Go task while holding a teddy bear or a same-sized cardboard box. As expected, the ERN was significantly larger when participants held a teddy bear rather than a cardboard box. This effect was most pronounced for people high (rather than low) in trait intrinsic motivation, who may depend more on intrinsically motivating task cues to maintain task engagement. These findings highlight the potential benefits of simulated interpersonal touch in stimulating attention to errors, especially among people who are intrinsically motivated.
... While in older times, people could resolve being cold by sleeping with many in one bed (Lacroix & Naunton, 2010;Tjew-a-Sin & Koole, 2013), a house -instead of other peopleprovides ample and stable warmth through its central heater, blankets, and other furniture, and by serving as a place where we eat warm food, snuggle our cat, take a warm bath, or sit by the fireplace. ...
Research
Full-text available
House brokers typically intuit that any type of warmth cause people to buy houses more frequently. Is this empirical reality? The authors investigated this through people’s attachment towards advertised houses. A wealth of research has now linked thermoregulation to relationships (cf. IJzerman et al., 2015), and here the authors purport that this extends to people’s relationships with house as a more novel solution to an ancient problem: Shielding from the cold. The present package tests a preregistered idea that colder temperatures increase people’s need to affiliate and, in turn, increase people’s estimations of how homely a house is (measured through communality). The hypotheses of the first two studies were partly right: The authors only found that actual lower temperatures (not motivation and through a cup and outside temperature) induced people to find a house more communal, predicted by their need to affiliate. Importantly, this even predicts whether people find the house more attractive, and increases their willingness to pay for the house (Studies 1 and Study 2). The third study did not pan out as predicted, but still affected people’s need to affiliate. The authors reason that this was caused by a methodological shortcoming (namely not directly being affected by temperature). The present work provides novel insights into how a house becomes a home.
... 11 In humans, there may be comparable strategies to reduce the energetic costs of thermoregulation. Most of the research efforts in humans on huddling (which in humans focuses on touch) to date however have been dedicated to other (related) areas of research, such as social judgment (Erceau and Guéguen, 2007), prosocial behaviors (Crusco and Wetzel, 1984;Hornik and Ellis, 1988;Field, 2010), valence of affect (Vallbo and Johansson, 1984), and emotional communication (Hertenstein et al., 2006(Hertenstein et al., , 2009; for reviews, see Gallace and Spence, 2010;Tjew-A-Sin and Koole, 2013). ...
Article
Full-text available
Beyond breathing, the regulation of body temperature—thermoregulation—is one of the most pressing concerns for many animals. A dysregulated body temperature has dire consequences for survival and development. Despite the high frequency of social thermoregulation occurring across many species, little is known about the role of social thermoregulation in human (social) psychological functioning. We outline a theory of social thermoregulation and reconsider earlier research on people's expectations of their social world (i.e., attachment) and their prediction of the social world. We provide support and outline a research agenda that includes consequences for individual variation in self-regulatory strategies and capabilities. In our paper, we discuss physiological, neural, and social processes surrounding thermoregulation. Emphasizing social thermoregulation in particular, we appeal to the economy of action principle and the hierarchical organization of human thermoregulatory systems. We close with future directions of a crucial aspect of human functioning: the social regulation of body temperature.
... benefits for individuals with low self-esteem. Recent technological advances have yielded so-called "haptic jackets" that can simulate an affectionate embrace (Tjew A Sin & Koole, 2013). These and other tactile interventions may supplement traditional psychotherapy, which has emphasized cognitive treatments for psychological disorders. ...
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Individuals with low (rather than high) self-esteem often struggle with existential concerns. In the present research, we examined whether these existential concerns may be alleviated by seemingly trivial experiences of both real and simulated interpersonal touch. A brief touch on the shoulder by a female experimenter led individuals with low self-esteem to experience less death anxiety (Study 1) and more social connectedness after a death reminder (Study 2). Reminding individuals with low self-esteem of death increased their desire for touch, as indicated by higher value estimates of a teddy bear, a toy animal that simulates interpersonal touch (Study 3). Finally, holding a teddy bear (vs. a cardboard box) led individuals with low self-esteem to respond to a death reminder with less defensive ethnocentrism (Study 4). Individuals with high self-esteem were unaffected by touch (Studies 1-4). These findings highlight the existential significance of embodied touch experiences, particularly for individuals with low self-esteem.
Book
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Novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) disease (COVID-19) was a major public health emergency and psychosocial shock event that directly or indirectly affected virtually all humans on Earth. The virus emerged around Wuhan in China and spread around the globe over 2020-22 when >16 million (MM) humans died and >70% of humanity had been subjected to social restrictions and societal lockdown. Coronavirus exploited social interaction, urbanization, public transport, and liberalism, and elicited the strongest global economic perturbation in a century (-3% world GDP). In this snapshot of time humans showed emotional, cognitive, physical, social, and societal responses to a pandemic marked by stress, loneliness, polarization, demonstrations, riots and violence, long-Covid, virus mutations, vaccines, and breakthrough infections, conspiracy theories, and individual, sociocultural, and geopolitical changes, including war in Europe, and existential angst due to nuclear threats, and an accelerating climate disaster. The pandemic years 2020-22 were the hardest and most stressful years that most people lived through and influenced a generation of humans. This pandemic was an unique period in time to learn about human psychology and preparedness, as engagement with natural hazards is one master task of civilization. Method: The pandemic is an immensely broad topic and a staggering amount of information became available which inspired me to use the Dutch (NL) mainstream media (MSM) as a lens to study and structure societal responses over 2020-22. These MSM data were enriched with examples and perspectives from Europe and the United States, using a range of academic and government studies. This story was built around five key interests: (a) individual differences in what people felt, thought, did, need, and wanted during the years 2020-2022, in terms of personality differences; (b) which humans coped with the rapid changes in daily rhythms and societal restrictions and who were able to maintain their subjective well-being (resilience); (c) how did human preparedness pan out over 2020-22; and (d) how did a selection of major Dutch MSM reflect on this unfolding Covid pandemic, one of the largest in a century; and (e) how did the pandemic influence human development with a special focus on youth (aged 0-30) and psychology. Results: Globally governments decisions to curb the pandemic were driven by public sentiment rather than ratio, science, and cost-benefit analyses. Public sentiment that shifted like the weather, as citizens proved unpredictable, contradictory, and prone to emotional swings. Most humans tolerated repeated lockdowns over 2020-22 (e.g., 675 days with restrictions in NL), against the pre-Covid social science consensus. Humans grappled with the asymptomatic transmission of coronavirus, the duration and ambiguity of the pandemic (an experience many revisited when Russia invaded the Ukraine), which often sparked a reevaluation of their lives. Humans crafted a societal master narrative to structure their collective understanding of the pandemic and their societal responses, and worked towards an acceptance of their collective vulnerability despite high vaccination rates. Over 2020-22 humans were forced to adjust to a rapidly changing world, and many citizens struggled to return to a normal that was lost. Differences in resilience and adjustment to coronavirus associated with social and financial resources, cognitive ability, risk aversion, values, personality profiles, skills, and contextual differences, such as living in a rich social welfare state, among others. Several countries started with an aim to derive herd immunity while others employed a zero-tolerance strategy that became untenable after the rise of Delta and Omicron variants. One cardinal observation was the lack of human prudence, as humans and governments were astonished when confronted with novel coronavirus, a series of climate disasters, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and showed to be unprepared, despite certainty and clear warning signals that these events were coming. Moreover, many humans and governments continued to be surprised by the second up to sixth waves of Covid-19, often months apart, which illustrates that anticipatory failure was a system feature rather than a bug. In the Netherlands the polarization and loss of government trust was phenomenal (from 80% to 25% of adults) and conspiracy theories affected families and friendships. Citizens entered a prisoners dilemma as those who took part in massive protests, riots, and refused to be vaccinated (~10%), or the many Dutch adults and companies who refused to adhere to even the most basic measures like social distancing (1.5m), testing, quarantining, and a reduction in social contact, enjoyed their freedom at the expense of healthcare workers, many disable people, and people in need of intensive hospital treatment, and prolonged social restrictions for everyone. Conclusion: Coronavirus was a risk multiplier that helped identify specific human weaknesses, from their hubris and lack of prudence to poor societal and international synchronization. MSM described how human irrationality, naivety, ignorance, complacency, hubris, immoderation, recklessness, callousness, self-centeredness, hostility, and greed, gave rise to many of the suffering and catastrophes over 2020-22, including the spread of Covid-19, the rapidly accelerating climate disaster, and the Russian-Ukrainian war. Pandemic studies also highlighted human flexibility and positive capacities, such as the courage of health workers, the key role of family and friends in human health and well-being and the many relationships that deepened, and rapid advances in public medicine and health. Political, social and healthcare systems must adapt to handle the rapidly changing circumstances and threats due to coronavirus and other documented geopolitical and climatic stressors, which affected all humans. The coronavirus pandemic impacted on youth development over 2020-21 but it remains to be seen whether youth collectively remain to be slightly more insecure, introverted, risk aversive, and collectivistic, compared to previous cohorts. The coronavirus pandemic was a symptom of a rapidly changing climate that stared humanity in the face in terms of an unprecedented series of extreme heat waves, wildfires, floods, droughts, famine, and hurricanes over 2020-22, and the ongoing (sixth) global mass extinction event, all human made; a species both astonishing powerful and stupid. Humans must take stock of the lessons learned over 2020-22 and aim for prudence and collaboration across borders to successfully navigate the next two centuries and flourish, as many alarm bells were ringing.
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In “Emotion Regulation: Current Status and Prospects”, Gross (in press) reviews the state of the art in modern emotion regulation research and presents a new model of emotion regulation. We applaud the extended process model (Gross, in press), as part of a more general push towards more dynamic conceptions of emotion regulation. At the same time, we feel that the field still has a long way to go before it can provide a satisfactory account of people’s emotion-regulatory dynamics. The extended process model and its conceptual cousins maintain that emotion regulation is driven by mental representations like goals and “valuation systems” (Gross, in press). In our view, such static representations do not adequately explain the dynamic nature of emotion regulation. To tackle this problem, we propose a situated cognition approach, which treats emotion regulation as an activity that emerges dynamically from people’s interactions with their environment.
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A brief touch on the upper arm increases people's altruistic behavior and willingness to comply with a request. In this paper, we investigate whether this Midas touch phenomenon would also occur under mediated conditions (i.e., touching via an arm strap equipped with electromechanical actuators). Helping behavior was more frequently endorsed in the touch, compared to the no-touch condition, but this difference was not found to be statistically significant. However, a meta-analytical comparison with published research demonstrated that the strength of the virtual Midas touch is of the same magnitude as that of the Midas touch in unmediated situations. The present experiment, thus, provides empirical evidence that touch-like qualities can be attributed to electromechanical stimulation. This is important for the field of mediated social touch of which the design rationale is based on the assumption that mediated touch by means of tactile feedback technologies is processed in ways similar to real physical contact.
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There is little empirical research to date that looks at how the deleterious effects of social exclusion can be mitigated. We examined how touching an inanimate object—a teddy bear—might impact the effect of social exclusion on prosocial behavior. Across two studies, we found that socially excluded individuals who touched a teddy bear acted more prosocially as compared to socially excluded individuals who just viewed the teddy bear from a distance. This effect was only observed for socially excluded participants and not for socially included (or control) participants. Overall, the findings suggest that touching a teddy bear mitigates the negative effects of social exclusion to increase prosocial behavior. In Study 2, positive emotion was found to mediate the relationship between touch and prosocial behavior. These results suggest a possible means to attenuate the unpleasant effects of social exclusion.
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The purpose of this study was to determine the relationship of early maternal touch to the neurodevelopmental status of low birth weight (LBW) infants. One hundred and eight LBW infants and their mothers were videotaped during a typical feeding when the infant was 3 months old. This tape was used to analyze both the mother's touch and other facets of caregiving behavior using standardized coding systems. Data on perinatal medical risk were also acquired through chart review, and neurodevelopmental tests were administered to the infants at age 1 year. Results indicate that infants whose mothers used more stimulating touch during caregiving had better visual-motor skills at 1 year of age. In addition, infants of mothers who touched them frequently had more advanced gross motor development. Findings suggest that stimulating and frequent touch may help to compensate for early neurosensory deficits and promote neurodevelopment for LBW infants. Infant birth weight made the strongest contribution to all measures of infant neurodevelopmental status at age 1 year.
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In addition to fight-or-flight, humans demonstrate tending and befriending responses to stress—responses underpinned by the hormone oxytocin, by opioids, and by dopaminergic pathways. A working model of affiliation under stress suggests that oxytocin may be a biomarker of social distress that accompanies gaps or problems with social relationships and that may provide an impetus for affiliation. Oxytocin is implicated in the seeking of affiliative contact in response to stress, and, in conjunction with opioids, it also modulates stress responses. Specifically, in conjunction with positive affiliative contacts, oxytocin attenuates psychological and biological stress responses, but in conjunction with hostile and unsupportive contacts, oxytocin may exacerbate psychological and biological stress responses. Although significant paradoxes remain to be resolved, a mechanism that may underlie oxytocin's relation to the health benefits of social support may be in view.
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During breastfeeding or suckling, maternal oxytocin levels are raised by somatosensory stimulation. Oxytocin may, however, also be released by nonnoxious stimuli such as touch, warm temperature etc. in plasma and in cerebrospinal fluid. Consequently, oxytocin may be involved in physiological and behavioral effects induced by social interaction in a more general context. In both male and female rats oxytocin exerts potent physiological antistress effects. If daily oxytocin injections are repeated over a 5-day period, blood pressure is decreased by 10–20 mmHg, the withdrawal latency to heat stimuli is prolonged, cortisol levels are decreased and insulin and cholecystokinin levels are increased. These effects last from 1 to several weeks after the last injection. After repeated oxytocin treatment weight gain may be promoted and the healing rate of wounds increased. Most behavioral and physiological effects induced by oxytocin can be blocked by oxytocin antagonists. In contrast, the antistress effects can not, suggesting that unidentified oxytocin receptors may exist. The prolonged latency in the tail-flick test can be temporarily reversed by administration of naloxone, suggesting that endogenous opioid activity has been increased by the oxytocin injections. In contrast, the long-term lowering of blood pressure and of cortisol levels as well as the sedative effects of oxytocin have been found to be related to an increased activity of central α2-adrenoceptors. Positive social interactions have been related to health-promoting effects. Oxytocin released in response to social stimuli may be part of a neuroendocrine substrate which underlies the benefits of positive social experiences. Such processes may in addition explain the health-promoting effects of certain alternative therapies. Because of the special properties of oxytocin, including the fact that it can become conditioned to psychological state or imagery, oxytocin may also mediate the benefits attributed to therapies such as hypnosis or meditation. © 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
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This study examined observers' perceptions of nine different types of touch (including a "no touch" control condition) used in cross-sex relationships between coworkers. Results showed that face touch sends particularly strong relational and emotional messages. A soft touch in the cheek area of the face was seen as signaling more affection, attraction, flirtation, and love than the other types of touch. Face touch was also rated as the most inappropriate and sexually harassing of the nine types of touch examined. Arm around the waist was also rated as showing relatively high levels of attraction and flirtation, as well as inappropriateness and harassment. No touch and handshaking conveyed the most formality. Observers rated women as more affectionate, trusting, happy, and composed than men across the touch conditions. Men, however, were judged to be more attracted to their cross-sex partners than were women. These and other findings are discussed to shed light on the multiple interpretations of touch within the context of relationships between cross-sex coworkers.
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Ethological attachment theory is a landmark of 20th century social and behavioral sciences theory and research. This new paradigm for understanding primary relationships across the lifespan evolved from John Bowlby's critique of psychoanalytic drive theory and his own clinical observations, supplemented by his knowledge of fields as diverse as primate ethology, control systems theory, and cognitive psychology. By the time he had written the first volume of his classic Attachment and Loss trilogy, Mary D. Salter Ainsworth's naturalistic observations in Uganda and Baltimore, and her theoretical and descriptive insights about maternal care and the secure base phenomenon had become integral to attachment theory. Patterns of Attachment reports the methods and key results of Ainsworth's landmark Baltimore Longitudinal Study. Following upon her naturalistic home observations in Uganda, the Baltimore project yielded a wealth of enduring, benchmark results on the nature of the child's tie to its primary caregiver and the importance of early experience. It also addressed a wide range of conceptual and methodological issues common to many developmental and longitudinal projects, especially issues of age appropriate assessment, quantifying behavior, and comprehending individual differences. In addition, Ainsworth and her students broke new ground, clarifying and defining new concepts, demonstrating the value of the ethological methods and insights about behavior. Today, as we enter the fourth generation of attachment study, we have a rich and growing catalogue of behavioral and narrative approaches to measuring attachment from infancy to adulthood. Each of them has roots in the Strange Situation and the secure base concept presented in Patterns of Attachment. It inclusion in the Psychology Press Classic Editions series reflects Patterns of Attachment's continuing significance and insures its availability to new generations of students, researchers, and clinicians.