Affectionate Touch to Promote Relational, Psychological, and Physical Well-Being in Adulthood: A Theoretical Model and Review of the Research

Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2017 Aug;21(3):228-252. doi: 10.1177/1088868316650307. Epub 2016 May 24.


Throughout the life span, individuals engage in affectionate touch with close others. Touch receipt promotes well-being in infancy, but the impacts of touch in adult close relationships have been largely unexplored. In this article, we propose that affectionate touch receipt promotes relational, psychological, and physical well-being in adulthood, and we present a theoretical mechanistic model to explain why affectionate touch may promote these outcomes. The model includes pathways through which touch could affect well-being by reducing stress and by promoting well-being independent of stress. Specifically, two immediate outcomes of affectionate touch receipt-relational-cognitive changes and neurobiological changes-are described as important mechanisms underlying the effects of affectionate touch on well-being. We also review and evaluate the existing research linking affectionate touch to well-being in adulthood and propose an agenda to advance research in this area. This theoretical perspective provides a foundation for future work on touch in adult close relationships.

Keywords: affectionate touch; close relationships; health; physiology; stress; well-being.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Research
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Therapeutic Touch*
  • Touch*
  • Young Adult