Monday, May 23, 2011

10 Psychological Effects of Nonsexual Touch

10 Psychological Effects of Nonsexual Touch

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Psychological research on how a simple (nonsexual) touch can increase compliance, helping behaviour, attraction, and signal power.
To get around in the world, we mainly rely on our eyes and ears. Touch is a sense that's often forgotten.
But touch is also vital in the way we understand and experience the world. Even the lightest touch on the upper arm can influence the way we think. To prove it, here are 10 psychological effects which show just how powerful nonsexual touch can be.

1. Touch for money

A well-timed touch can encourage other people to return a lost item. In one experiment, users of a phone booth who were touched were more likely to return a lost dime to an experimenter (Kleinke, 1977). The action was no more than a light touch on the arm.
People will do more than that though; people will give a bigger tip to a waitress who has touched them (Crusco & Wetzel, 1984).
(Stop giggling at the back there!)

2. Touch for help

People are also more likely to provide help when touched. In one study, strangers who were touched lightly on the arm were more likely to help an experimenter pick up things they had dropped (Gueguen, 2003). The percentage of people who helped went up from 63% to 90%.

3. Touch for compliance

The power of a light touch on the upper arm often extends more broadly to compliance.
In a study by Willis and Hamm (1980), participants were asked to sign a petition. While 55% of those not touched agreed to sign it, this went up to 81% of those participants touched once on the upper arm. A second study asked people to fill in a questionnaire. The same touch increased compliance from 40% to 70%.

4. Touch twice for more compliance

And you can increase compliance with a second light touch on the arm.
Vaidis and Halimi-Falkowicz (2008) tried this out when asking people in the street to complete a questionnaire. Those touched twice were more likely to complete the questionnaire than those touched once. The effects were strongest when men were touched by a female surveyor.

5. Or, touch for a fight!

However, the acceptability of touch, especially between men, depends a lot on culture.
When Dolinski (2010) carried out a compliance experiment in Poland, he got quite different results for men and women. In Poland men asked to do the experimenter a favour reacted badly to a light touch on the arm. This seemed to be related to higher levels of homophobia. Women, however, still reacted positively to touch.

6. Touch to sell your car

Unlike Poland, France has a contact culture and touching is acceptable between two men. So French researchers Erceau and Gueguen (2007) approached random men at a second-hand car market. Half were touched lightly on the arm for 1 second, the other half weren't.
Afterwards those who had been touched rated the seller as more sincere, friendly, honest, agreeable and kind. Not bad for a 1-second touch. We can safely assume the results would have been quite different in Poland!

7. Touch for a date

You won't be surprised to hear that men show more interest in a woman who has lightly touched them. But here's the research anyway: Gueguen (2010) found men easily misinterpreted a light nonsexual touch on the arm as a show of sexual interest.
Perhaps more surprisingly women also responded well to a light touch on the arm when being asked for their phone number by a man in the street (Gueguen, 2007). This may be because women associated a light 1 or 2-second touch with greater dominance. (Bear in mind, though, that this research was in France again!)

8. Touch for power

Touch communicates something vital about power relationships. Henley (1973) observed people in a major city as they went about their daily business. The people who tended to touch others (versus those being touched) were usually higher status. Generally we regard people who touch others as having more power in society (Summerhayes & Suchner, 1978).

9. Touch to communicate

Touch comes in many different forms and can communicate a variety of different emotions. Just how much can be communicated through touch alone is demonstrated by one remarkable study by Hertenstein et al. (2006).
Using only a touch on the forearm, participants in this study tried to communicate 12 separate emotions to another person. The receiver, despite not being able to see the toucher, or the touch itself, were pretty accurate for anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude and sympathy. Accuracy ranged from 48% to 83%.
To put it in context, that is as good as we can do when we can see someone's face.

10. Massage for maths

So, if you can do all that with a touch, imagine what you could do with a massage!
Well, one study has found that it can boost your maths skills (Field, 1996). Compared with a control group, participants who received massages twice a week for 5 weeks were not only more relaxed but also did better on a maths test. Once again, witness the incredible power of touch.

Boring disclaimer

All of these studies rely on the touch being appropriate. Being touched can have quite different meanings depending on situation, culture and gender. Generally the touch referred to is a light touch on the upper arm—the safest place to touch someone you don't know.
Also, research has identified a small proportion of people—both men and women—who don't like to be touched at all during everyday social interactions. These people are not likely to respond positively in any of these situations.
Image credit: Julian Coutinho

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Unusual Thinking Styles Increase Creativity

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Psychological research reveals how rational versus intuitive thinking can inspire new ideas.
The idea of creativity is wonderful: that a spark of inspiration can eventually bring something new and useful into the world, perhaps even something beautiful. Something, as it were, from nothing.
That spark may only be the start of a journey towards the finished article or idea, but it is still a wonderful moment. Without the initial spark there will be no journey. It’s no exaggeration to say that our ability to be creative sits at the heart of our achievements as a species.

Do incentives work?

So, how do you encourage creativity in yourself and in others? I discuss this question of how to be creative in my recent ebook on creativity. There I describe six principles, based on psychological research, that can be used to understand and increase creativity.
But, what methods do people naturally use to encourage creativity? In the creative industries the usual method is money, or some other related incentive. So, can incentives encourage people to be creative?
According to the research, they can, but crucially these incentives need to emphasise that creativity is the goal (Eisenberger & Shanock, 2003). Studies find that if people are given an incentive for just completing a task, it doesn’t increase their creativity (Amabile et al., 1986). In fact, incentives linked to task completion (rather than creativity) can reduce creativity.
Another way of encouraging creativity is simply to be reminded that creativity is a goal. It seems too simple to be true, but research has found that just telling people to ‘be creative’ increases their creativity (e.g. Chen et al., 2005).
The theory is that this works because people often don’t realise they’re supposed to be looking for creative solutions. This is just as true in the real world as it is in psychology experiments. We get so wrapped up in deadlines, clients, costs and all the rest that it’s easy to forget to search for creative solutions.
People need to be told that creativity is a goal. Unlike children, adults need to be reminded about the importance of creativity. Perhaps it’s because so much of everyday life encourages conformity and repeating the same things you did before. Doing something different needs a special effort.

Rational versus intuitive thinking

However telling someone to ‘be creative’ is a bit like telling them to ‘be more clever’ or ‘be more observant’. We want to shout: “Yes, but how?!”
Along with the techniques I suggest in my ebook, another insight comes from a new study on stimulating creativity. This suggests one solution may lie in using an unusual thinking style—unusual, that is, to you (Dane et al., 2011). Let me explain…
When trying to solve problems that need creative solutions, broadly people have been found to approach them in one of two ways:
  1. Rationally: by using systematic patterns of thought. This involves relying on specific things you’ve learnt in the past, thinking concretely and ignoring gut instincts.
  2. Intuitively: by setting the mind free to explore associations. This involves working completely on first impressions and whatever comes to mind while ignoring what you’ve learnt in the past.
The researchers wondered if people’s creativity could be increased by encouraging them to use the pattern of thinking that was most unusual to them. So, those people who naturally preferred to approach creative problems rationally, were asked to think intuitively. And the intuitive group was asked to think rationally for a change.
Participants were given a real-world problem to solve: helping a local business expand. The results were evaluated by managers from the company involved. When they looked at the results, the manipulation had worked: people were more creative when they used the thinking style that was most unusual for them.
One of the reasons this may work is that consciously adopting a different strategy stops your mind going down the same well-travelled paths. We all have habitual ways of approaching problems and while habits are sometimes useful, they can also produce the same results over and over again.
A limitation of this study is that it only looked at the generation of new ideas. This tends to occur mostly at the start of the creative process. So once ideas have been generated and a more analytical mindset is required, these techniques may not work so well (I discuss this balance between a wandering and focused mind in principle six of my ebook).
Image credit: gfpeck