Is this women thinking “Don’t touch my shoulder, please don’t?” (Stocksy)
New research has discovered where people do and don’t like to be touched — and a lot of it depends on how well we know a person.
The study, which was published in the journal PNAS, asked more than 1,300 men and women from five countries (the U.K. Finland, France, Russia, and Italy) to color in areas of the body that they would allow a partner, stranger, various family members, or a friend to touch.
Researchers used the answers to create body maps that showed how touchable certain areas are for people, depending on their relationships.
Some of the results aren’t surprising: Women don’t like the idea of being touched by male strangers on most of their body, and men don’t want male or female relatives to touch their genitals. The closer a person is to a toucher, the more they feel OK with that person touching more parts of their bodies.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of variation across cultures.
But both men and women considered female touch more appropriate, reporting that they would allow women to touch more areas on their body. Both sexes said they would think it was somewhat inappropriate for a female friend to touch their genitals, but didn’t list it as completely off-limits.
Study co-author Juulia Suvilehto, a doctoral candidate at Finland’s Aalto University, tells Yahoo Health that they’re not sure why this is the case, but it might be a “cultural phenomenon.”
The study also discovered that men were more closed off in terms of feeling comfortable with others touching various parts of their bodies. While they seemed somewhat OK with female strangers touching them anywhere, they weren’t comfortable with male strangers touching them anyplace below the chest. Men also felt more comfortable being touched on their genitals by a female stranger over their own mother.
While it sounds surprising, Atlanta-based psychologist and relationship coach Jared DeFife, PhD, isn’t shocked. “In general, men accept touch less and in fewer places,” he says. “Whether that is a biologically or culturally driven difference, we really don’t seem to know.” As for the stranger vs. mom touching, it may be sexually motivated.
When it comes to stranger contact, the study found that most of us feel wary or somewhat wary of being touched by a stranger anywhere but on our hands.
(PNAS/ JUULIA T. SUVILLEHTO)
That doesn’t necessarily bode well for the air-kiss. “If you’re in a culture where the air kiss is a commonly used form of greeting, by all means go ahead,” says Suvilheto. “But if you’re in a more conservative environment, it might be better to play it safe.”
Study co-author Robin Dunbar, PhD, a professor of psychology at Oxford University, tells Yahoo Health that the research stresses the importance of touch in creating a social bond. “This is a very ancient monkey/ape mechanism for creating friendships, and it seems that it is still important for us,” he says.
The fact that we gauge our comfort with others based on our emotional closeness to them stresses the importance of touch in creating and maintain our relationships through time, he says.
While touch can help create and maintain bonds, DeFife points out that touching someone is always a risk; therefore, it’s important to proceed with caution. “Be thoughtful about what you’re doing and mindful about what kind of response you’re getting,” he says. “Violating boundaries around touch can have some serious personal and professional consequences, so use good judgment.”
Maybe save that air kiss for your friends and family.