That human touch that means so much: Exploring the tactile dimension of social life

French novelist Michel Houellebecq (1998) envisioned a future in which all contact between people is mediated by technology. As such, one might wonder if haptic technology can ever replace interpersonal touch. Is being hugged by a haptic jacket as valuable as being hugged by a human being? Will the ultimate high-tech society be completely devoid of human touch? Though provocative, these questions may be largely beside the point. In the foreseeable future, the main use of haptic technology lies not in replacing human touch. Rather, haptic technology provides touch experiences for individuals who will otherwise remain touch-deprived. For instance, individuals with social anxiety, who find it awkward to be touched by people, may find it acceptable to wear a haptic jacket. Likewise, haptic technology may allow parents to hug their children while at work or traveling. New technological developments may thus enable greater numbers of individuals to reap the social and emotional benefits of interpersonal touch.


Ågren, G., Lundeberg, T., Uvnas-Moberg, K., & Sato, A. (1995). The oxytocin antagonist 1-deamino-2-D-Tyr(Oet)-4-Thr-8-Orn oxytocin reverses the increase in the withdrawal response latency to thermal, but not mechanical stimuli following oxytocin administration or massage-like stroking in rats.  Neuroscience Letters, 187, 49–52.

Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Auvray, M., Myin, E., & Spence, C. (2010). The sensory-discriminative and affective-motivational aspects of pain. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 214-223.

Baron-Cohen, S., & Belmonte, M. K. (2005). Autism: A Window onto the development of the social and the analytic Brain.Annual Review of Neuroscience, 28, 109-126.

Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss: Vol. 2. Separation, anxiety and anger. New York: Basic Books.

Coan, J. A., Schaefer, H. S., & Davidson, R. J. (2006). Lending a hand: Social regulation of the neural response to threat.Psychological Science, 17, 1032-1039.

Crusco, A. H., & Wetzel, C. G. (1984). The Midas touch: The effects of interpersonal touch on restaurant tipping. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 10, 512–517.

Di Simplicio M., Massey-Chase R., Cowen P., and Harmer C. (2009). Oxytocin enhances perception and memory for positive versus negative emotional information in healthy male volunteers. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 23, 241-8

Eaton, M., Mitchell-Bonair, I.L., & Friedmann, E., (1986). The effect of touch on nutritional intake of chronic organic brain syndrome patients. Journal of Gerontology 41, 611–616.

Escalona, A., Field, T., Singer-Strunk, R., Cullen, C., & Hartshorn, K. (2001). Brief report: Improvements in the behavior of children with autism following massage therapy. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 513-516.

Fiske, A. P. (1991). Structures of social life: The four elementary forms of human relations. New York: Free Press.

Fiske, A. P. (2004). Relational models theory 2.0. In N. Haslam (Ed.).  Relational models theory: A contemporary overview(pp. 3 – 25). London: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.

Goldman, M., Kiyohara, O., & Pfannensteil, D. (1985). Interpersonal touch, social labeling and the foot-in-the-door effect.The Journal of Social Psychology, 152, 143–147.

Guastella, A., Einfeld, S., Gray, K., Rinehart, N., Tonge, B., Lambert, T., & Hickie, I. (2010). Intranasal oxytocin improves emotion recognition for youth with autism spectrum disorders. Biological psychiatry, 67, 692-4

Guéguen, N. (2007). Courtship compliance: The effect of touch on women's behavior. Social Influence, 2, 81-97.

Gueguen, N., & Fischer-Lokou, J. (2002). An evaluation of touch on a large request: A field setting. Psychological Reports, 90, 267–269.