Tools for Changing the World

Social psychology for social good

All very touching

April 14th, 2011

You’ve probably had the experience of a salesperson touching you while trying to make a sale. This can range from warm and friendly to somewhat intrusive to if-you-don’t-back-off-I’m-calling-your-manager-but-only-after-I-remove-one-of-your-favourite-organs-with-a-nail-file.

Maybe that last one’s just me.

TouchBut those salespeople do know what they’re doing. We’re a social species and touch is important to us. Perhaps that’s why it can be so effective as a tool of persuasion.

There’s a lot of research on this subject and most of the researchers have used a light touch on the arm as their test variable. I’m still amazed by the behavioural changes such a small action can have. Studies done over the past 40 years have shown that touching a person like this makes them significantly more likely to:

Those are just examples, and there are dozens more. Some studies also looked at other factors and discovered that touch made even more of a difference  when the request was difficult to carry out or when the requester was the same gender as the person being asked. Another study found that touching twice was even more effective than touching once.

It appears that nonsexual touching makes us more cooperative,  more generous, more helpful – more eager to please. This is something to remember if you feel you are being persuaded against your will, but the potential for good is certainly there.

So, while I’m not recommending you start pawing the people you’re trying to influence (unless you’re a large and excited dog, I suppose), don’t be afraid to lightly touch. Even if you’re not selling anything, you might improve someone’s day.

1 comment on 'All very touching'

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  1. Tata

    14 Apr 11 at 10:16 am

    Remember when Sheryl Crow touched Karl Rove and he reacted like she was a large and excited dog, rather than a tiny, beautiful woman? Seems like you’ve touched on why.


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