The meaning of the virtual Midas touch: an ERP study in economic decision making

Psychophysiology. 2015 Mar;52(3):378-87. doi: 10.1111/psyp.12361. Epub 2014 Sep 30.


The Midas touch refers to the altruistic effects of a brief touch. Though these effects have often been replicated, they remain poorly understood. We investigate the psychophysiology of the effect using remotely transmitted, precisely timed, tactile messages in an economic decision-making game called Ultimatum. Participants were more likely to accept offers after receiving a remotely transmitted touch. Furthermore, we found distinct effects of touch on event-related potentials evoked by (a) feedback regarding accepted and rejected offers, (b) decision cues related to proposals, and (c) the haptic and auditory cues themselves. In each case, a late positive effect of touch was observed and related to the P3. Given the role of the P3 in memory-related functions, the results indicate an indirect relationship between touch and generosity that relies on memory. This hypothesis was further tested and confirmed in the positive effects of touch on later proposals.

Keywords: Altruism; EEG; ERP; Game theory; Mediated touch; Midas touch; Ultimatum.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Social Behavior*
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Young Adult