Are we a ‘touch-starved’ culture?

UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner thinks we Americans are definitely touch-deprived.  In lecture 8 of his excellent course Human Happiness (feed),  Keltner presents evidence that when we touch each other, we feel less stressed, more altruistic and well — happier. He’s talking here about casual everyday touches, everything from a bear hug to a gentle tap on the arm.

Not only that, but Keltner describes experiments that suggest that humans have a cross-cultural “language of touch.” In a lab setting, people showed the ability to discern feelings like sympathy and gratitude from a simple touch on the arm. The people making these judgments were screened from the person who was touching their arm, and their only contact was the physical touch.

And what about touch deprivation? Keltner quotes an observational study of people conversing over coffee in different countries. On the average, Londoners did not touch each other at all. In some other countries average touches were: Florida, 2; Paris, 110; Puerto Rico, 180.

If you’re convinced, you could make the world a happier place today. Just reach out and touch someone.

Related posts:
Human happiness

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2 Responses to Are we a ‘touch-starved’ culture?

  1. fed up. says:

    yea were a totally touch starved culture, most people are brainwashed into making money, or rushing here and there and not knowing where thier going?
    people act like your from mar’s or if you act interested in them they freak out,
    Ive met one’s from France or africa that blew away people over here. in being real or interested in you.

  2. The bigger question is whether or not there are significant differences between the societies that do and do not have a high level of touching that might reasonably be down to that kind of contact. Do the French, for example, have any measurably higher altruistic tendencies or social cohesion? It seems to me that all Western societies have pretty much the same problems, and they’re largely down to socio-economic and political influences rather than inter-personal ones. Although I wouldn’t deny the happy effects of physical contact, it seems to be an unwise extrapolation to claim that incorporating it regularly in your life will make you or others happier. First of all, increased regularity may make people desensitized to it, thus the increased happiness may be short-term and only observable in those who don’t have it regularly, and, second, the happiness we may otherwise be deprived of in a “touch-starved” culture could well be found in other human interactions that “touch-rich” cultures don’t feature as much as us.

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