Harnessing tactile waves to measure skin-to-skin interactions

Behav Res Methods. 2021 Aug;53(4):1469-1477. doi: 10.3758/s13428-020-01492-3. Epub 2020 Nov 17.


Skin-to-skin touch is an essential form of tactile interaction, yet there is no known method to quantify how we touch our own skin or someone else's skin. Skin-to-skin touch is particularly challenging to measure objectively, since interposing an instrumented sheet, no matter how thin and flexible, between the interacting skins is not an option. To fill this gap, we explored a technique that takes advantage of the propagation of vibrations from the locus of touch to pick up a signal that contains information about skin-to-skin tactile interactions. These "tactile waves" were measured by an accelerometer sensor placed on the touching finger. Applied pressure and speed had a direct influence on measured signal power when the target of touch was the self or another person. The measurements were insensitive to changes in the location of the sensor relative to the target. Our study suggests that this method has potential for probing behaviour during skin-to-skin tactile interactions and could be a valuable technique to study social touch, self-touch, and motor control. The method is non-invasive, easy to commission, inexpensive, and robust.

Keywords: Self-touch; Skin-to-skin touch; Social touch; Tactile interaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Fingers
  • Humans
  • Touch Perception*
  • Touch*