The power of a light touch on the arm

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.

22 thoughts on “The power of a light touch on the arm”

  1. I dont think that it is the status that attracts women but feeling accepted and comfartable around this person. because if you compare a very good looking guy with a a moderate good looking guy women will always look at the last one because they think that the first one wil leave them but the other one will stay with them.

  2. I partially agree with anonymous.The results of the experiment could be due to dominance, but also believe that touching someone weakly can create a feeling of acceptance and confidence. Women usually have no confidence in strange men, they need to have more than superficially knowledge. That is what a weak touch can realize.

  3. I do think it may have something to do with dominance, it would be interesting to see the study repeated but with both genders switched and then again with same sex interactions.I do agree though that it may be largely cultural, the report talks about how it may not work in a non-touch culture, but the same goes for cultures that are very tactile where the touch may not even be noticed.

  4. There’s a lot of really interesting info here, I can’t wait to start digesting it, but I did feel the need to question this study.I’d assume that it came down to the individual as to whether you give them your telephone number and how they feel about being touched by a stranger. I don’t enjoy people I’ve never met coming into my “personal space”, let alone placing their hand on me.I’d imagine that if anything, confidence would hold the majority of the persuading factor. You’d be more willing to trust someone that has confidence that someone that isn’t entirely sure of themselves.Have a Great DayRednose

  5. If they did this survey in America you can be sure they would have been arrested for sexual harassment.

  6. I tend to agree with the confidence remark made by rednose.Presumably, more confident people would be perceived as more dominant.

  7. The numbers quoted in the study do not seem convincing. 65 vs 43? 19 vs 10? Can it be established that this isn’t mere co-incidence?I cannot access the full article, so my apologies if this point has already been addressed.

  8. I would be interested in seeing more research as to why this is. Although I agree that confidence and a certain dominance definitely play a part in perception, I think the last line of the article may also reveal something farther. I would imagine that most any physical contact not perceived as hostile would lead to a state of arousal (if only slightly) and might contribute to a form of misattribution.Such results would be in effect similar to another study where people asked out over a rickety bridge were more likely to respond favorably than those asked on solid ground. Interesting nonetheless. Now to test it out (all in the name of science of course).

  9. now what kind of touch do they suggest? a light feeling on the hand, bring you hand gently down her arm….. I could see this freaking a person out if its not done the right way.

  10. I am not Caucasian. When I am touched by a waiter I feel not comfortable. I know they are friendly but I am not comfortable. But I understand.

  11. And if you’re not good-looking or even somewhat good-looking? I do the light touch and women jerk away like they’ve been hit by lightning.

  12. a light touch dispells many notions of non-acceptance…it is not acceptable in some relationships to me, though…and the patronizing arm around the shoulders is almost a kind of violence to me, but the light touch on the arm from a woman indicates that she is responding favourably or willing to conduct communication in a positive mood.

  13. I think that what the last anonymous person says is quite interesting: could we have a point by saying that, due to the virginal attributes we associate to women, their touching others is seen as good and positive and, due to the dominance attributes people think men have, men’s touching women is seen as “dangerous”? If so, then it is not a matter of “touching”, but of “prejudice”. I also think the numbers are not quite meaningful, especially the 10-19 ones.

  14. Yes, only in contact cultures. I’m Asian-American and get offended if a stranger, especially an adult male, invades my personal space.

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  16. Were the researchers blinded to what they were looking for? It doesn’t look like that, and if they were unconsciously looking for a certain result they could have acted more confident when touching arms, influencing the result.

  17. I am on this site trying to find answers. Recently a co-worker lightly touched my arm several times (just with his finger) in a short span of time during a conversation. (I am a female) I was aroused for several days. It was like he had a spell over me. It does work – I just don't know how.

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