by Tina Cherpes, Featured Contributor
Behavior Therapy #14
KIM HAD BEEN working as a server in a busy downtown restaurant for the past three years and was thrilled with her new found strategy to boost her take-home pay. “I don’t know if this sounds weird to you but I swear when I started touching my clients, my tips doubled.”
Research consistently reveals that a well-timed, non-sexual touch can be a powerful influence of behavior and even the lightest touch on the upper arm can influence the way we think and act.
Published in The Journal of Social Psychology we learn that when lightly touched on the arm, strangers were nearly 50% more likely to help the experimenter pick up things they had dropped than those who were not touched.
From the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, we explore the effect of touch on our willingness to comply through a study that asked participants to sign a petition. While 55% signed without being touched, the number jumped to 81% when the participants were touched once on the upper arm. A later study asked people to fill in a questionnaire; touch increased the participants’ willingness to comply by 75%.
In the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology we learn that a well-timed touch encouraged participants to return lost money. From Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, we learn that while touch did not effect the ratings of the server, the restaurant’s atmosphere, or the dining experience, tipping rates were significantly larger (something Kim intuitively knew) when patrons had been lightly touched by their server.
While these studies demonstrate the effect touch can have on our generosity, compliance, and willingness to help, being touched can have quite different meanings depending on the situation, culture, and/or gender involved. Without a doubt, there are portions of the population that don’t like to be touched at all during social interactions and would undoubtedly not respond positively in any of the situations previously described. Nonetheless, for the vast majority, non-sexual touch is a powerful influence and when we’re first attempting to influence someone through touch, a light, 1-2 second touch on the arm can be a non-threatening place to start.
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