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body language: types of touch

August 24, 2010

Heslin (1982) names five categories of touch that vary on a continuum from impersonal to intimate:

  • Professional-functional: this kind of touch is impersonal and businesslike, e.g., the touch that a physician uses when conducting a physical examination or hairdressers when giving you a haircut.
  • Social-polite: this kind of touch is more formal than warm, e.g. shaking someone’s hand.
  • Friendship/warmth: a friendly touch such as a hug or a pat on the back.
  • Love/intimacy: touches between family members or lovers.
  • Sexual: touching between lovers, e.g., kissing or making love.

Different people and different cultures can vary in what they think is customary and appropriate touch between business associates, acquaintances, and friends. For example, two men holding hands would fall into the “friendship/warmth” category in countries like Egypt, but fall into the “love/intimacy” category in the US or Germany.

Touch is seen as positive when it reflects the level of intimacy we think fitting for the context and relationship and is seen as negative if it’s too intimate and intrusive or not intimate enough (imagine your lover giving you a formal handshake instead of kissing you hello).

I’ll go on a short vacation tomorrow, so the next post won’t be until next week. If you haven’t found it already, take a look at the “body language” link under “pages” in the navigation bar on the right. It gives you a bit of an idea about future posts.

Let me know if you want me to add anything.

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