Touchy Not-So-Feely

October 30, 2015

picasso_two_saltimbanques_postcard_1Bright sunshine curdled by a chilly breeze this early Friday afternoon on California’s north coast — clear sailing supposedly until Sunday with another rain-front expected, and more cool temperatures.

In this particular age of much-ado ‘political correctness,’ comes an odd/normal study of how humans actually physically touch:

As expected, emotionally closer individuals in inner layers of the social network were allowed to touch wider bodily areas and for more reasons, whereas touching by strangers was primarily limited to the hands and upper torso.
Genitals and buttocks formed “taboo zones” that only the emotionally closest individuals were allowed to touch.

(Illustration: Pablo Picasso’s ‘The Two Saltimbanques,‘ found here).

Right. Researchers from the University of Oxford and Aalto University in Finland undertook the biggest exercise of its type in gauging the touch/hug synapses of humans, with results published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some details from yesterday’s The Atlantic:

The participants, from Finland, France, Italy, Russia, and the U.K., detailed where strangers, family members, friends, and romantic partners were allowed to touch them.
Researchers from the University of Oxford and Finland’s Aalto University then combined the results to create a so-called “heat map.”
For almost everyone, the hands are OK.
Unsurprisingly, no one wanted relatives of either gender to touch their genitals.
And, regardless of nationality, researchers found that the closeness of the relationship correlated with the range of areas that can be touched.
There were, however, some unexpected results.
Oxford University’s Robin Dunbar, who co-authored the study, said: “We were a bit surprised at how reluctant men were [to be touched] compared to women.”
The heat map showed that men weren’t even comfortable with other male strangers touching the back of their heads — it was a “taboo zone.”

Humans are quite similar to monkeys and apes in that respect, with touch being crucial in establishing and maintaining social bonds.
There wasn’t a significant amount of cultural difference in where participants would allow family, friends and strangers to touch them; but some nationalities were less enthusiastic about touching than others.
True to their stereotype, British participants were right at the bottom on the touchability index.
And to the researchers’ surprise, Italians were less comfortable with being touched than Russians.
“We hadn’t expected the Finns to turn out to be the most cuddly people,” Dunbars says.
“Or that the Italians are almost as uncuddly as the Brits.”

And this bit on the study from The Mirror:

Evolutionary psychologist Professor Robin Dunbar, who led the study, said that although kissing at first meeting was now socially acceptable, people will often adopt an ‘arm hold’ manoeuvre to make the practice less alarming.
He said: “Most people will put their hand on the arm of the person as a braking mechanism and to let the other person known that they are not about to chomp them.”

Touch, but no bite…

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