Science project

How Much Can Be Communicated Through Touch?

Research Questions:

  • 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

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Print out four lists of the emotions: anger, embarrassment, envy, gratitude, pride, sadness, surprise, sympathy.
  2. 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.
  3. Give one list, a piece of paper, and a pencil to each test subject.
  4. You will test the couples in groups of four people. First separate the couples.
  5. Have one person from each couple sit at the table on one side of the cloth. They will be the “givers.”
  6. 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.
  7. Have the receivers put their arms under the curtain to the givers' side of the table.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. When the list of emotions has been completed have the receivers switch places and repeat steps 7-9.
  11. Repeat the process for all test couples.
  12. 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?
  13. 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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