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The study of emotional communication has focused predominantly on the facial and vocal channels but has ignored the tactile channel. Participants in the current study were allowed to touch an unacquainted partner on the whole body to communicate distinct emotions. Of interest was how accurately the person being touched decoded the intended emotions without seeing the tactile stimulation. The data indicated that anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy were decoded at greater than chance levels, as well as happiness and sadness, 2 emotions that have not been shown to be communicated by touch to date. Moreover, fine-grained coding documented specific touch behaviors associated with different emotions. The findings are discussed in terms of their contribution to the study of emotion-related communication.
We reanalyzed a data set consisting of a U.S. undergraduate sample (N = 212) from a previous study (Hertenstein et al. ) that showed that touch communicates distinct emotions between humans. In the current reanalysis, we found that anger was communicated at greater-than-chance levels only when a male comprised at least one member of a communicating dyad. Sympathy was communicated at greater-than-chance levels only when a female comprised at least one member of the dyad. Finally, happiness was communicated only if females comprised the entire dyad. The current analysis demonstrates gender asymmetries in the accuracy of communicating distinct emotions via touch between humans.
The study of emotional signaling has focused almost exclusively on the face and voice. In 2 studies, the authors investigated whether people can identify emotions from the experience of being touched by a stranger on the arm (without seeing the touch). In the 3rd study, they investigated whether observers can identify emotions from watching someone being touched on the arm. Two kinds of evidence suggest that humans can communicate numerous emotions with touch. First, participants in the United States (Study 1) and Spain (Study 2) could decode anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy via touch at much-better-than-chance levels. Second, fine-grained coding documented specific touch behaviors associated with different emotions. In Study 3, the authors provide evidence that participants can accurately decode distinct emotions by merely watching others communicate via touch. The findings are discussed in terms of their contributions to affective science and the evolution of altruism and cooperation.