How Much Can Be Communicated Through Touch?
Grade Level: 9th to 12th; Type: Social Science
This project explores how well couples convey complex emotions to one another solely through the sense of touch as compared to non-couple pairings.
- Which emotions were more successfully communicated through touch?
- Which were more difficult?
- Were couples more successful than non-couples at conveying emotions to one another?
A new study published in the journal Cognition and Emotion suggests that couples, much more than non-couples, can convey emotions as complex as envy and pride to one another solely through touch.
- Medium-sized table
- Four chairs
- Heavy, dark cloth for use as a curtain
- Clothes-hanging rack or some other mechanism for hanging the curtain
- Computer, printer and paper
- 10 couples who have been together for at least one year to serve as test subjects
- Paper and pencils for recording and analyzing results
- Print out four lists of the emotions: anger, embarrassment, envy, gratitude, pride, sadness, surprise, sympathy.
- Set up the table with the curtain hanging across the middle so that people sitting on either side of the table can’t see the person sitting across from them.
- Give one list, a piece of paper, and a pencil to each test subject.
- You will test the couples in groups of four people. First separate the couples.
- Have one person from each couple sit at the table on one side of the cloth. They will be the “givers.”
- Have the other two test subjects sit on the other side of the table/curtain. They will be the “receivers.” It is fine that the giver and receiver know who each other is.
- Have the receivers put their arms under the curtain to the givers' side of the table.
- Have the givers each select one emotion at a time to try to convey to the receivers solely through touching their arms. Be sure to instruct the givers to convey the emotions in a random order (not the list order) and to note down that order for use in your analysis.
- As each emotion is conveyed, have the receiver guess at and note down which of the emotions it is. Be sure to keep this note and the one from instruction #8 together in a pair and indicate whether the pairing was a couple or non-couple for use in later analysis.
- When the list of emotions has been completed have the receivers switch places and repeat steps 7-9.
- Repeat the process for all test couples.
- Analyze the data. On average, which emotions were more successfully communicated through touch? Which were more difficult? Were couples more successful than non-couples at conveying emotions to one another?
- Extension: Repeat this experiment using pairs of people in close, non-romantic relationships, for example: a parent and child, siblings.
Terms/Concepts: sense of touch; Which emotions are able to be conveyed through touch?; Which emotions are couples able to convey to one another through touch?
References: “A Couple’s Touch Reveals More than Affection,” by Cari Nierenberg, The Body Odd
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