no touching

Scientists Discover That There Are Good Touches and Bad Touches

Photo: Psychological and Cognitive Sciences

And now, allow scientists to teach you about good touching and bad touching. A study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences includes the above graphic, which is essentially a painstakingly detailed way of pointing out what you already knew to be true (at least let’s hope so): The closer you are to a person, the less weird it is when they touch you. Unless they’re your family, in which case a whole other set of social norms apply.

Researchers at the University of Oxford, Aalto University, and the University of Turku gave 1,300 people silhouettes depicting the front and back of a human body, with labels for different kinds of relationships: family, friends, acquaintances, strangers. They then asked the participants to shade in the outlines to indicate where each person would be allowed to touch them. The darker the color is, the more unwanted the touch is from that particular human; the blue letters indicate the average responses from the men in the study, and the red letters are for the women. 

The point of the research was to understand more about the role touch plays in the relationships we form with other people, an area of research that is not yet well-understood — hence the reason this study looked at something so obvious as “maybe don’t touch people you don’t know.” You’ve got to start somewhere, in other words. Besides, maybe it’s not a bad idea to print this graphic out, business-card size, and hand it out when necessary on the subway. 

Scientists Discover Good Touches and Bad Touches