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4 Secret Powers of Human Touch

... and how we can easily misinterpret its message.

Source: g-stockstudio/Shutterstock

We are all aware of the sensual power of touch, and the role that it plays in sexuality. However, there are many other ways that touch can be used to affect people, both positively and negatively.

Touch and Arousal.

Of course, we know that being touched by a sexual partner leads to positive arousal, but the very act of being touched by someone else can cause attention and arousal, both positive and negative, depending on the circumstances. Being bumped by a stranger, for example, can trigger negative arousal and response such as irritation or anger.

Touch and Dominance.

Research shows that touch can be used as a “dominance display.” Dominant individuals are more likely to initiate touch than are submissive persons. Research also shows that (in non-romantic situations) men initiate touch more than women. Psychologist Nancy Henley suggests that touch is one subtle tool men use to attempt to dominate women. In one interesting study, it was found that when a man and woman walk side-by-side, the man tends to keep the woman on the side of his dominant hand. It's also been found that when women initiate touch, it is often misinterpreted as a sign of sexual interest.

Touch and Attraction.

Touch can be used as a sign of sexual interest. A light brushing of the back of the hand, or touching knees together, can be used as a cue of attraction and suggest that more touching is desired. Yet even unintentional touching may trigger attraction. In one famous study, waitresses lightly touched customers while bringing them the check—and the patrons who were touched left larger tips than those who weren’t.

The Healing Power of Touch.

We have all heard about the “laying of hands”—the supposed healing power of touch. There's no magical healing force in the human touch, but it actually can be comforting and soothing, and put us in a better positive state when we are feeling poorly or in physical or psychological pain.

Remember: There is no universal “dictionary” for nonverbal behavior. The meaning of any particular nonverbal cue, including touch, depends on the context and the persons involved.

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