A Study on the Effects of Touch and Impression Formation
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
BARNHOUSE, T.D. (1998). A Study on the Effects of Touch and Impression Formation. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 1. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

A Study on the Effects of Touch and Impression Formation

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
A study into the effects of touch on impression formation, using a brief touch on the forearm of students by the tutor during their tutorial sessions, was conducted in the Center for Academic Support Center, located on the campus of Missouri Western State College. Each subject was given a short survey after the session, asking to rate their overall impression of the tutor and if they were inclined to return for future visits to the center. The purpose of this study is to show that a brief touch in a non-threatening way can form a positive impression of the tutor, resulting in bringing a rapport that can increase grades and attendance to the center in the future.

How important is physical touch in relationships? What role does touch play in a tutor/student situation? In many tutorial arenas, the use of touch was considered "politically incorrect", since a standard of aesthetic distance between the tutor and tutee was established to maintain a teacher/student relationship. However,many researchers (DeVito, Hecht, l990) have found that touch intimacy can sway strangers and even people close to you, often without their knowledge. The expression "that person is an easy touch" refers to the persuasive power of touch. A momentary and seemingly incidental touch can establish a positive, temporary bond between a tutor and his or her student, resulting in better impression formations of the tutor.This makes for a more productive tutorial session, which can make for a better grade for the student. In one experiment in a library, a slight hand brush in the course of returning library cards to patrons was enough to influence patrons` positive attitudes towards the library and its staff. In another study, conducted in restaurants, a fleeting touch paid off in hard cash. Waitresses who touched their customers on the hand or shoulder as they returned change received a larger percentage of the bill as their tip. Even though they risked crossing role boundaries by touching customers in such familiar ways, their ingratiating service demeanor offset any threat(DeVito& Hecht,p.222). Montague(1971) distinguished three forms of touch, mainly defined by the roles they play in behavior. Social touch fosters social bonds, attachment, and emotional integrity, the effects of touching in social situations, social stimulation, and social deprivation thus constituting the broadest areas of our interest. In passive touch the organism is touched by some external agent, in contrast with active touch, where the subject initiates the touch manipulation. Impression management may rest on the effective use of nonverbal cues (Baron & Byrne, l987). Certain facial expressions, body postures, and patterns of eye contact convey positive reactions in others. Touch can suggest many things, depending on the context in which it takes place (business or social setting; public or private location), the nature of this physical contact (is it brief or prolonged; gentle or rough; what part of the body is being touched), and who does the touching (friend or stranger; member of your own or opposite sex). A growing body of evidence points to the following conclusions: when one person touches another in a noncontroversial manner (i.e., gently, briefly, and on a non-sensitive part of the body), positive reactions generally result. Touch does not always produce such effects, however. When it is perceived as a status or power play, or when it is too prolonged or intimate, it may evoke anxiety, anger, or other reactions, so should be used sparingly (Baron & Byrne,p.43). In another study involving touch , (Lewis, Derlega, Shankar, Cochard, & Finkel, 1978)) confounds were researched to the degree in which the confederates, trained to exhibit consistent behavior across touch condition, actually did so. The interaction either involved the confederate touching or not touching the participant on the elbow and forearm. Participants` perceived social support was assessed as well as nonverbal behavior of the confederate. Individuals who were touched reported more perceived social support compared to those who were not touched. In spite of specific instructions to keep nonverbal behavior consistent, confederated in the touch versus no touch condition displayed different behaviors. Confederates who touched used more nervous gestures and fewer expressive hand gestures compared to those who did not touch. With this in mind, I would hope to reduce those types of confounding variables in my own research design. The purpose of this study is to show that a brief touch on the arm of a student who comes in for help in a tutorship setting can form positive impressions of the tutor. This can prove useful to the director of the tutoring center, seeing that touch can bring a rapport with the student that could cause an increase in their attendance to the center, resulting in better grades for the student.


I plan on conducting my research on those subjects who have come in to the Center for Academic Support, located on the campus of Missouri Western State College, St. Joseph, Missouri. These subjects have made appointments prior to their arrival to receive tutoring in English papers, so they were randomly assigned the no-touch or touch variable status.

I will offer the students a pen and paper survey to fill out anonymously after their session and drop into the locked "tutor evaluation card" box located inside the tutoring center.

Upon the arrival of the subjects for their 30 minute session, I have already decided that the first subjects will be touched, and the second subjects will be placed into the non-touch category. This eliminates a possible confounding variable in that I don`t treat them any differently. We start our tutorial session, which consists of having the subjects read aloud their papers, and I interject when it is necessary to bring an error to their attention. At some point during the tutorial, as I am discussing their papers with them, I touch them briefly on the forearm, allowing it to last just a fraction of a second. At the end of the session, I ask them to fill out a short survey anonymously and to drop it into the box marked "Tutor evaluation cards", to which I have previously marked a small "t" in the upper left hand corner to indicate whether or not they were touched .

Independent t tests comparing the mean scores of the experimental and control groups found a significant difference between the scores of the two groups (t(18)=.002,p<.05). The scores of the experimental group (touched) were sifnificantly higher (M=40.00, sd=.00) than the score for the control (non-touched) group (M=38.87, sd=1.12).

My hypothesis in doing research in this area was to indicate that the use of touch in a tutorial arena will form a favorable impression of the tutor on the students coming in for help on their English writing papers. Since the "politically correct" movement, the use of touch has been underrated as a form of positive impression formation, and in this case, it indicates a closer look at this powerful tool. The results of my experimental research is consistent with the literature on the subject of touch and impression formation. There were enough subjects(twenty), and there was external validity with few limitations. Any confounding variables that may have presented themselves during the time frames of the experiment may have contaminated the study; therefore I tried to keep each tutorial session as consistent as possible, treating each subject as closely alike as possible, albeit the brief incidental touch on the forearm to those in the "touch" variable group. This study can be generalized to apply to other groups in various settings and time frames as well, leading to increased rapport with many different areas where a good impression would be a favorable response.A word of caution, however; the touch should be brief and understood to be in a non-threatening way. Some touches may not be appreciated in the intended way it was meant; this may form an adverse reaction of the tutor by the tutee. Cultural and geographical difference may also vary the study, as well as factors including sex and perceived attitude of the tutor,and sex of the student.

Baron, R., & Byrne, D. (1987). Social Psychology: Understanding Human Interaction. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Devito, J., & Hecht, M. (1990). The Nonverbal Communications Reader. Illinois: Waveland Press.Lewis, R., Derlega, V., Shankar, A., & Cochard, E. (1997). Nonverbal correlates condfederates` touch: Confounds in touch research. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 12,(3), 821-830.Montague, A. (1971). Touching; the Human significance of the Skin. New York: Columbia University Press.

Submitted 11/10/98 2:03:20 PM
Last Edited 8/17/2008 4:59:35 AM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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