The science of interpersonal touch: an overview

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2010 Feb;34(2):246-59. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2008.10.004. Epub 2008 Oct 17.


Surprisingly little scientific research has been conducted on the topic of interpersonal touch over the years, despite the importance of touch in our everyday social interactions from birth through to adulthood and old age. In this review, we critically evaluate the results of the research on this topic that have emerged from disciplines, such as cognitive and social psychology, neuroscience, and cultural anthropology. We highlight some of the most important advances to have been made in our understanding of this topic: For example, research has shown that interpersonal tactile stimulation provides an effective means of influencing people's social behaviors (such as modulating their tendency to comply with requests, in affecting people's attitudes toward specific services, in creating bonds between couples or groups, and in strengthening romantic relationships), regardless of whether or not the tactile contact itself can be remembered explicitly. What is more, interpersonal touch can be used to communicate emotion in a manner similar to that demonstrated previously in vision and audition. The recent growth of studies investigating the potential introduction of tactile sensations to long-distance communication technologies (by means of mediated or 'virtual' touch) are also reviewed briefly. Finally, we highlight the synergistic effort that will be needed by researchers in different disciplines if we are to develop a more complete understanding of interpersonal touch in the years to come.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Communication*
  • Culture
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Love
  • Memory
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Telecommunications
  • Touch Perception / physiology*
  • User-Computer Interface