Social touch deprivation during COVID-19: effects on psychological wellbeing and craving interpersonal touch

R Soc Open Sci. 2021 Sep 8;8(9):210287. doi: 10.1098/rsos.210287. eCollection 2021 Sep.


Social touch has positive effects on social affiliation and stress alleviation. However, its ubiquitous presence in human life does not allow the study of social touch deprivation 'in the wild'. Nevertheless, COVID-19-related restrictions such as social distancing allowed the systematic study of the degree to which social distancing affects tactile experiences and mental health. In this study, 1746 participants completed an online survey to examine intimate, friendly and professional touch experiences during COVID-19-related restrictions, their impact on mental health and the extent to which touch deprivation results in craving touch. We found that intimate touch deprivation during COVID-19-related restrictions is associated with higher anxiety and greater loneliness even though this type of touch is still the most experienced during the pandemic. Moreover, intimate touch is reported as the type of touch most craved during this period, thus being more prominent as the days practising social distancing increase. However, our results also show that the degree to which individuals crave touch during this period depends on individual differences in attachment style: the more anxiously attached, the more touch is craved; with the reverse pattern for avoidantly attached. These findings point to the important role of interpersonal and particularly intimate touch in times of distress and uncertainty.

Keywords: COVID-19; anxiety; attachment; social touch; wellbeing.

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5598176