By Jeff Haden | April 29, 2011
First a confession: I don’t like to be touched — loved ones excluded, of course. Naturally that means I don’t initiate any casual touching. Shake hands? Sure. Casual hugs, bro’ hugs, arm patting, or back slapping?
So while it may not be news to you, I was surprised by research showing how powerful nonsexual touch can be. (Yes, I am aware sexual touch can be powerful too.) Touch can influence behavior, increase the chances of compliance, make the person doing the touching seem more attractive and friendly… and can even help you sell a car.
Here are a few examples from a summary of research on the very cool PsyBlog. When touched, people are:
- More likely to provide help. 90% of strangers who were touched lightly on the arm helped the experimenter pick up dropped items. If not touched, only 63% helped.
- More likely to comply. 81% of participants agreed to sign a petition if touched, while only 55% agreed when not touched.
- Even more likely to comply if touched twice. Researchers asked strangers to fill out a questionnaire. People who were touched twice were more likely to agree than those only touched once. (Here’s a shocker: Results were highest when females touched males.)
- More likely to generously tip. Waitresses who touch customers are more likely to receive a bigger tip. (From a 1984 study, before the non gender-specific word “server.”)
- Able to perceive unspoken emotions. Participants in a study tried to convey twelve different emotions by touching another blindfolded participant on the forearm. The rate of accuracy for perceiving emotions like fear, anger, gratitude, sympathy, love, and disgust ranged from 43% to 83%.
- More likely to buy a car (maybe). Researchers approached random men shopping for used cars. Half were touched for one second, the other half were not touched. Those who were touched later rated the “toucher” as more friendly, honest, and sincere. Would creating that perception help a salesperson make more sales? You would certainly think so…
Sure, you can misuse the power of touch. Touch can help improve the likelihood of compliance, so a couple of strategic pats on the arm might, for example, help you talk a hesitant employee into accepting a crappy assignment.
So use your new powers for good, not evil. Since touch helps convey sincerity, when you congratulate employees make direct eye contact and shake hands. Or pat them lightly on the upper arm. Show your sincere appreciation not just with words, but with actions as well.
And start hugging your mother more often. She deserves it.