Social Touching Maps (taboo or not taboo)

The acceptability (or otherwise) of physically touching another person can depend on many factors – including the social relationship of the toucher and the touchee, and of course, where you touch them (that’s to say, not only the bodily region, but also the socio-geographic location). A research team from Aalto University and the University of Turku in Finland and the University of Oxford, UK, have for the first time, shown that:

“[…] the total bodily area allowed for touching is linearly dependent on the emotional bond with the toucher across a wide range of European cultures (Finland, France, Italy, Russia, and the United Kingdom), with the strength of two individuals’ social bond predicting, on average, 54% of the variance in spatial touching patterns.”

Touch-MapAs a result of three experiments involving a total of 1,368 multinational participants, the researchers were also able to confirm that:

“As expected, emotionally closer individuals in inner layers of the social network were allowed to touch wider bodily areas and for more reasons, whereas touching by strangers was primarily limited to the hands and upper torso. Genitals and buttocks formed clear ‘taboo zones’ [shown in black above] that only the emotionally closest individuals were allowed to touch. Frequency of social contact with an individual did not predict the area available for social touch, confirming that the experienced bond between the individuals, rather than mere familiarity, modulates social touching behavior in dyads.”

See: ‘Topography of social touching depends on emotional bonds between humans’ (in: PNAS 2015, published ahead of print, October 26)