A good-looking man approached 120 women in a night club over a period of three weeks, and asked them to dance. It was in the name of science – the man was an assistant to the psychologist Nicolas Guegen. Remarkably, of the 60 women who he touched lightly on the arm, 65 per cent agreed to a dance, compared with just 43 per cent of the 60 women who he asked without making any physical contact.
A second study involved three male research assistants approaching 240 women in the street and asking them for their phone numbers. Among those 120 women who the researchers touched lightly on the arm, 19 per cent agreed to share their number, compared with 10 per cent of the women with whom no physical contact was made.
Guegen says that when men make this light touch on the women's arms, they are perceived as more dominant which is an attractive trait associated with status.
To test this, more women were asked for their phone numbers in the street. Again, half were touched on the arm and half were not. After the male researchers had done their bit, a female researcher approached the women and asked them questions about the men. Supporting Guegen's explanation, the women who had been touched on the arm tended to rate the male researcher who had approached them as more attractive and more dominant.
This study was conducted in France, and Guegen cautioned the findings might not translate to other cultures. “It is possible that in a non-contact culture, the effect of touch in a courtship relation would be perceived negatively by women,” he said.
This is not the first time psychological research has revealed the social effects of physical touch. Other studies have shown, for example, that when observers view a picture of one person touching another, they perceive the “toucher” to be more dominant than the “touchee”. Yet another study found waiters and waitresses who touched customers lightly on the arm, were perceived more positively than those who made no physical contact.
Guegen, N. (2007). Courtship compliance: The effect of touch on women's behaviour. Social Influence, 2, 81-97.
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.