Human Communication. A Publication of the Pacific and Asian Communication Association.
Vol. 12, No. 1, pp.67 - 76.
Development and Validity Testing of a Measure of Touch Deprivation
Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter
Texas Tech University
Department of Communication Studies
P.O. BOX 43083
Lubbock, TX 79409-3083
Jason S. Wrench, Ed.D.
SUNY New Paltz
Department of Communication and Media
Coykendall Science Building 51
New Paltz, NY 12561
The goal of the present study was to develop and validate a measure of touch deprivation.
One hundred ninety-eight undergraduate students completed the measure. The measure
was shown to be both reliable and accounted for factorial, concurrent, predictive, and
criterion validity. Results indicated that touch deprivation was related to several different
variables, such as self-esteem and depression. Suggestions for future research and
limitations were discussed.
Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter & Jason S. Wrench
The importance of touch cannot be overstated. Touch is a common aspect of
human communication. Henley (1973) observed that touch has a huge impact on social
Researchers have noted the importance of touch on physical, mental, and emotional
health (Derlega, Cantanzaro, & Lewis, 2001). Touch is an important part of human
communication, because individuals constantly give and receive touch from others.
Previous studies have shown that touch has an impact on compliance (Brockner,
Pressman, Cabitt, & Moran, 1982), willingness to spend money shopping (Hornik, 1991),
willingness to complete a survey (Hornik, 1987) and willingness to return money
(Kleinke, 1977). Given that so many research studies have shown how touch affects
interactions and behaviors, it was important to look at perceptions of touch. The goal of
the present study was to develop and test a measure of touch deprivation.
Touch deprivation or the lack of haptic communication is an understudied yet
very important area of nonverbal communication. Knapp and Hall (1992) noted that
“tactile communication is probably the most basic or primitive form of communication…
In one sense, our first input about what ‘life’ is going to be like comes from the sense of
touch.” (p. 231). However, not everyone in society receives the amount of touch he or she
desires or needs. In fact, research has shown that people who do not receive adequate
amounts of touch develop various communication problems from reduced learning of
speech (Thayer, 1986) to aggression (Field, 2002a).
Field (2002b) noted that touch is extremely important for the emotional, physical,
and psychological growth and development for children. Extreme cases of touch
deprivation have been cited in Romanian orphanages where children attained only half
their height. Moreover, there children with extreme touch deprivation have had delays in
cognitive development. Appropriate touch for children has been shown to help with
sleep, reduce bad temper, and enhance academic performance (Hart, Field, Hernandez-
Reif, and Lundy, 1998). Studies have found that babies who are touch appropriately are
more likely to smile, cry less, and vocalize more than babies who were not touched
appropriately (Field, 2002b). Prescott (1999) reported that more physical affection for
children causes fewer incidents of physical aggression. In fact, Field, Morrow, Valdeon,
Larson, Kuhn, and Schanberg (1992) found that increasing the amount of touch an
adolescent receives through massage therapy can actually decrease violent tendencies.
Furthermore, the Field et al. (1992) found that massages also helped to decrease
adolescent anxiety as well. In essence, the massage therapy decreases dopamine levels
while increasing serotonin levels, which ultimately decreases both aggressive and
anxious tendencies. Hertenstein (2002) noted that touch has several communicative
functions on infancy. In other words, positive touch elicits positive and emotions and vice
versa. Even adults are impacted by the type and amount of touch they receive. In one
study conducted by Field (1995), she found that when elderly individuals were trained to
give massages to neglected and abused infants the elderly individuals’ levels of anxiety
and depression decreased while the elderly individuals’ levels of overall mood improved.
Ultimately, touch studies have indicate that touch is very important because a lack of
touch leads to communication development problems (Field, 1995), depression (Field,
1995), eating disorders (Gupta & Schork, 1995), aggression (Field, 2002a), self-injury
behaviors (Turp, 2000). However, development of reliable means of measuring
individual perceptions of touch deprivation has not been done. The current study sets out
to design a measure of touch deprivation and test the reliability and validity of the
In an effort to ascertain the Touch Deprivation Scale’s criterion validity, the study
plans on examining the relationship between the newly developed scale and Gupta and
Schork’s (1995) Tactile Nurturance Scale. The Tactile Nurturance Scale was designed as
a 3 item measure of touch deprivation, but the scale lacks both validity and reliability.
The scale consists of three items and each item measures a completely different tactile
issue: found memories of touch as a child, not enough touch as a child, and not enough
touch as a child. Therefore, the following hypothesis is posed:
H1: There will be a relationship between touch deprivation and perceptions of tactile
In an effort to examine the Touch Deprivation Scale’s predictive validity, the
study plans on examining the newly developed scale’s relationship with depression. As
previously noted above, increased touch has been shown to increase an individual’s mood
while decreasing anxiety and depression (Field, 1995). Because of the nature of this
relationship, the opposite should also be true. Therefore the following hypothesis is
H2: There will be a positive relationship between touch deprivation and depression.
In an effort to examine the Touch Deprivation Scale’s predictive validity, the
study plans on examining the newly developed scale’s relationship with self-esteem. In
addition to depression, touch deprivation should also be related to an individual’s level of
self-esteem because self-esteem and depression are negatively related constructs (APA,
1994); therefore, the following hypothesis is posed:
H3: There will be a negative relationship between touch deprivation and self-esteem.
In an effort to examine the Touch Deprivation Scale’s concurrent validity, the
study plans on examining the newly developed scale’s relationship with perceptions of
same-sex touching. Larsen and LeRoux (1984) developed the Same Sex Touching Scale
to examine individual’s perceptions of same-sex touching.
H4: There will be a relationship between touch deprivation and same sex touching.
Participants and Procedures
Undergraduate students at a large southwestern university were participants in this
study. Participants were told that they would receive course credit for filling out a survey
and their response would remain anonymous. The participants were given a questionnaire
with several touch scales. A total of 198 participants completed the entire questionnaire.
The sample consisted of 101 females (52.9%), 81 males (45.5%), and 3 who did not
respond (1.5%). The mean age of the sample was 22.23 (SD = 6.33).
Touch Deprivation Scale. After reading the literature on touch deprivation, a 16
item Likert scale was created to measure the concept (Table 1). Each participant was
asked to rate each question on the measure using a scale ranging from 1 strongly disagree
to 5 strongly agree. To ascertain the factorial validity of the measure, a principle
Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter & Jason S. Wrench
component factor analysis with a varimax rotation was conducted. Four eigenvalues
above 1 were found. However, nothing meaningfully loaded on the fourth factor and the
scree test indicated that a three factor structure was appropriate. The three factors
accounted for 53.82% of the variance.
Table 1 Touch Deprivation Scale
1. I do not receive as much touch in my life as normal
2. I receive a normal, healthy amount of touch from
3. Human touch is not a daily occurrence in my life. .73
4. Touch from other people is a very common and
natural part of my daily life. -.72
5. I often go for days without being touched by
6. I often feel like I’m untouchable because of the
lack of touch from others in my life. .67
7. I receive a variety of forms of touch from a variety
of different people. -.64
8. I can go long periods of time without being touched
by another person. .55
9. There are days where I would do anything just to
be touched by someone. .14
10. I have longed for the touch of another person, any
11. Some days I long to be held, but have no one to
hold me. .31
12. I often wish I could get more hugs from others. -.05
13. I’ve engaged in sexual behaviors for the pure
purpose of being touched by someone. .01
14. I would never engage in sex with someone, just to
be touched. .03
15. I receive more touch than your average person. -.35
16. Even if someone hits me, at least I’m receiving
human touch. .27
All scores on the Touch Deprivation Scale were coded to indicate higher
perceptions of touch deprivation. The first factor consisted of 8 items measuring the
absence of touch (α = .85, M = 16.71, SD = 5.15). The second factor consisted of 4 items
measuring an individual’s longing for touch (α = .77, M = 9.97, SD = 3.47). The last
factor consisted of 2 items measuring an individual’s use of sexual contact to get touch (α
= .60, M = 4.70, SD = 2.22). The final two items loaded on multiple factors and were
dropped from the analysis.
Tactile Nurturance Scale. The Tactile Nurturance Scale was developed by Gupta
and Schork (1995) to measure an individual’s level of touch deprivation. The scale
consists of three items “I have fond memories of being hugged and/or cuddled by my
parents/caregivers during my early childhood years;” “I wish I had been hugged or
cuddled more during my childhood;” and “At the present time, I often wish I could get
more hugs from others.” Each item is measured using a ten step scale from 1 (not at all)
to 10 (markedly). For the purposes of the current study, a factor analysis was conducted
on the three items. However, only the second two items clearly loaded with each other.
For the purposes of the current study, the second two items are summed together (M =
7.78, SD = 4.18). The alpha reliability for the Tactile Nurturance Scale was .70.
Depression. To analyze an individual’s level of depression in this study, the
depression subscale from Goldberg’s (1972) General Health Questionnaire was utilized.
The Depression Subscale consists of 5 statements measured using a Likert-type scale
ranging from 1 Not at All to 4 Much More than Usual. The alpha reliability obtained in
this study was .50 (M = 8.46, SD = 5.59).
Rosenberg Self-Esteem Questionnaire. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Questionnaire
was created by Rosenberg (1965) to examine an individual’s positive perceptions of her
or himself. The version utilized in this study is the shortened version utilized and tested
by Vincke and van Herringen (2004). The scale consists of 6 statements measured using a
Likert-type scale ranging from 1 strongly disagree to 5 strongly agree. The alpha
reliability obtained in this study was .78 (M = 20.70, SD = 4.75).
Same-Sex Touching Scale. The Same Sex Touching Scale was created by Larsen
and LeRoux (1984) to examine individual perceptions of same-sex touching. Participants
who score high on the Same-Sex Touching Scale are more comfortable with same-sex
touching than those who score on the lower end of the scale. The scale consists of 20
statements measured using a Likert-type scale ranging from 1 strongly disagree to 5
strongly agree. The alpha reliability obtained in this study was .96 (M = 63.69, SD =
The first hypothesis predicted a relationship between touch deprivation and
perceptions of tactile nurturance. To conduct the analysis, a series of 2-tailed Pearson
Correlations were conducted between tactile nurturance and the three factors of touch
deprivation: absence of touch, r (189) = .14, p <.05; longing for touch, r (188) = .34, p
<.0005; and sexual contact to get touch, r (190) = .22, p <.005.
The second hypothesis predicted a positive relationship between touch
deprivation and depression. A multiple regression was conducted to evaluate how well
the independent variables (absence of touch, longing for touch, & sexual contact to get
touch) could predict the dependent variable (depression). The linear combination of the
independent variables was significantly related to an individual’s level of depression,
F(3, 183) = 18.41, p < .0005. The sample multiple correlation coefficient, R, was .48,
which indicates that approximately 23% of the variance of an individual’s level of
depression could be accounted for by the linear combination of the three factors of touch
deprivation. Furthermore, all three factors of touch deprivation were shown to account for
unique variance in an individual’s level of depression: absence of touch (β = .31, t = 4.53,
Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter & Jason S. Wrench
p < .0005), longing for touch (β = .34, t = 3.38, p < .001), and sexual contact to get touch
(β = .20, t = 2.97, p < .005).
The third hypothesis predicted a negative relationship between touch deprivation
and self-esteem. A multiple regression was conducted to evaluate how well the
independent variables (absence of touch, longing for touch, & sexual contact to get
touch) could predict the dependent variable (self-esteem). The linear combination of the
independent variables was significantly related to an individual’s self-esteem, F(3, 183) =
3.60, p < .001. The sample multiple correlation coefficient, R, was .25, which indicates
that approximately 6.1% of the variance of an individual’s self-esteem could be
accounted for by the linear combination of the three factors of touch deprivation.
However, only absence of touch (β = -.25, t = -3.26, p < .001) accounted for any of the
unique variance in an individual’s self-esteem.
The final hypothesis predicted a relationship between touch deprivation and same
sex touching. A multiple regression was conducted to evaluate how well the independent
variables (absence of touch, longing for touch, & sexual contact to get touch) could
predict the dependent variable (same sex touching). The linear combination of the
independent variables was significantly related to an individual’s perception of same sex
touching, F(3, 176) = 21.67, p < .0005. The sample multiple correlation coefficient, R,
was .52, which indicates that approximately 27% of the variance of an individual’s
perception of same sex touching could be accounted for by the linear combination of the
three factors of touch deprivation. However, only absence of touch (β = -.49, t = -7.22, p
< .0005) and longing for touch (β = .38, t = 5.53, p < .0005) accounted for any of the
unique variance in an individual’s perception of same sex touching.
It is obvious that touch is perceived differently among people. The results suggest
that there is a significant relationship between touch deprivation and perceptions of tactile
nurturance. The strongest relationship was between touch deprivation and longing for
touch. Individuals who are deprived from touch may need more nurturing. The two
concepts seem to be very similar. The results also suggested that there is a positive
relationship between touch deprivation and depression. The two concepts are highly
related to each other. Hence, touch may be very valuable to individuals, who are
depressed. Touch has been shown to be vital for infants’ overall development (Field,
2002a, b). Hence, touch could play an important role in the emotional and physical
development of depressed individuals. Findings also indicated that touch deprivation has
an effect on self-esteem. Higher self esteem predicts lower levels of touch deprivation
and vice versa. It is probable that more appropriate touch from others would be beneficial
for building one’s self esteem. Similar to depression, Field (2002a) noted that touch can
have an impact on how a person communicates and views themselves. Thus, touch can be
fruitful for healthier self esteems.
Findings suggests that same sex touching has an influence on perceptions of touch
deprivation. Because same-sex touching is considered taboo for males, it may cause
males to feel deprived of touch. Past research studies have noted that there are some
differences in the way that people touch (Derlega, Cantanzaro, & Lewis, 2001).
Specifically, research has suggested that men are less likely to touch the same sex
compared to women. The types of same sex touching include touching arms around the
waist, hugs, and massaging. Derlega, Lewis, Harrison, Winstead, and Costanza (1989)
found that male same-sex pairs exhibited less tactile intimacy than female same-sex pairs
or in opposite-sex pairs. The findings of sex differences and touching behavior was
similar to other studies on same-sex touching. Larsen and LeRoux (1984) examined
same-sex touching and found that men had less favorable perceptions toward same-sex
touching compared to women. Moreover, Anderson and Leibowitz (1978) discovered that
in same sex dyads, men were more likely than women to engage in touch avoidance.
Overall, men have different perceptions compared to women in regards to touching a
member of the same sex. Studies have consistently shown that women display customary
and conventional touching behaviors (Derlega et al., 1989). Touching behaviors among
women is typically perceived as appropriate and less likely to indicate sexual
involvement. Touching behaviors among men and women are also consistent with
conventional heterosexual expectations about male and female behavior (Derlega et al.,
1989). Nonverbal intimacy between men and women is usually considered as appropriate
and is probably seen as sexual in nature. Thus, perceptions of same-sex touch may
influence perceptions of touch deprivation.
Overall, findings revealed that the measure was shown to be both reliable and
accounted for factorial, concurrent, predictive, and criterion validity. Thus, future studies
on touch deprivation should use this measure. Moreover, the results indicate that many
factors may influence perceptions of touch deprivation.
There are a few limitations associated with this study. First, the study was done
with college students. Hence, the results can not necessarily be generalized to the general
population. Second, location of the college where the participants attended is considered
to be extremely conservative. If more participants from other parts of the country filled
out the survey, the results might be different. Third, the population of college students
was rather homogenous. A more diverse population might have offered different results.
Fourth, the study used a questionnaire format. If an interview or experiment was
conducted, the results might have been more explanatory.
There is still a lot of research that needs to be done on touch. Future research
should include other populations, such as young children and older adults. Moreover,
future research should provide more experimental designs concerning touch deprivation.
Also, future research might look at other touch deprivation variables that might affect
Future research in this area would be profitable, because touch is such an
important part of communication.
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