The Echoes of the Mind (137-9) Touch


Nothing is so healing as the human touch. ~ the last words of American chess player Bobby Fischer

Haptic communication is common to all social organisms. In humans, tactility develops before other senses. A fetus is invigorated by touch.

Tactile stimulation is essential for healthy infant development. In stark contrast, harsh physical contact is destructive to the psyche: a cause of behavioral problems, violence, and mental illness later in life.

On average, American children are touched far less than children in other cultures. Given this tidbit and its psychological implications, the ubiquitous violence in the United States is unsurprising, with more homicides per capita than other modern nations – Russia excepted, though its civil society is more medieval than modern.

Sometimes much more powerfully than words, touch conveys positive feelings: support, appreciation, inclusion, and affection. Touch is the most affectionate nonverbal behavior. Touch, space, and eye contact combine into a suite of intimacy.

Touch is strongly influential, even persuasive. Socially acceptable touches convey positive impressions which recipients seldom attribute to tactile stimulation.

Waitresses receive larger tips when they touch patrons. Complete strangers become more courteous to each other at a touch.

Social rules closely regulate tactile contact, banning overbearing or overly familiar touching. How much and where on the body people touch intimates how intimate their relationship is, and how power is distributed between them.

Superiors touch subordinates much more often than vice versa, as subordinates seldom touch superiors in return.

But sometimes touch is used to achieve power. Ambitious underlings may tactically use tactility to advance their status.

Sports is a special circumstance where exceptional public touching is common. Among men especially, tactility that would be unacceptable in a different setting is a norm for congratulation, encouragement, and consolation during sports.

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Touch is often used as part of cultural ritual in greetings and departures. Patterns of appropriate haptic communication vary considerably by culture.

While Latin Americans generally comprise a “contact” culture, Costa Ricans are more tactile than neighboring Panamanians and Columbians. Mexicans are effusive in their friendly tactility.

Westerners are generally more touch-oriented in social encounters than Asians. Though shaking hands has been accepted when dealing with Westerners, public tactility is largely frowned upon in East Asia.

Koreans consider it disrespectful for a storekeeper to touch a customer, even in handing back change. Koreans are the least-positive emotively tactile Asians. Centuries of subjugation by the Chinese and Japanese imbued tremendous reserve into the Koreans; yet the Koreans are also a physically violent people. Repression is often a smoldering fuse.

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Touch avoidance is related to communication apprehension, self-disclosure, self-esteem, and a series of cultural role variables. ~ American communication scholars Peter Andersen & Kenneth Leibowitz

The tendency to touch relates to openness to communication. People who avoid self-disclosure also avoid touching others.

Haptic patterns indicate underlying personality. People who like touching are more talkative, cheerful, and socially dominant. They are also less bound to etiquette, convention, and social image. Touchers often show an independence of thought and are concomitantly more inquiring and skeptical.

By contrast, those uncomfortable with touch tend to be less intelligent, and to some degree socially withdrawn and emotionally unstable. Regardless of gender, those with negative attitudes toward touch tend to be more authoritarian and inflexible.

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Self-touching is independently associated with anxiety and sexual interest. Females touch themselves more than males. In a sexual social context, self-touching by a woman, in bringing attention to her body, is perceived as a courtship behavior.

I don’t want anybody else. When I think about you I touch myself. ~ Australian singer Chrissy Amphlett in the song “I Touch Myself” (1990)