There has been a great deal of research into the effect of touching on persuasion, showing that it does seem to have a positive effect on compliance. This research has now begun to look at which parts of our bodies lead us to be more easily persuaded when touched (we’re talking arms and legs here, nothing dodgy).
Studies into the effect of touch on compliance include:
· Hornik (1991): Shoppers who were touched on the arm as they entered a store spent more money than those who were not.
· Hornik & Ellis (1988): Shoppers were more likely to complete a survey if they were touched on the arm as they were asked.
· Crusco & Wetzel (1984): Diners who were touched on the arm gave significantly bigger tips than those who were not.
However, I’d like to explore this idea from more of a biological angle. How could stimulation of different areas of our bodies have any effect on how easily persuaded we are? This would suggest that different areas of our brain are more likely to respond to persuasive measures than others (bear with me on this). It has been proven that both touching someone, and directing a request at their left hemisphere can lead to increased powers of persuasion. This can be done by speaking into or towards the contralateral ear (the ear on the opposite side of the body to its corresponding brain hemisphere). So, Left ear = right brain hemisphere, Right ear = left brain hemisphere.
To explain this idea better, let me present a piece of research conducted into hemispheric asymmetry by Marzoli and Tommasi in 2009. Their study involved an experimenter approaching 176 subjects in a busy nightclub. He/she then asked them for a cigarette, directing the request at either their right or left ear. They found that twice as many cigarettes were obtained when request was directed at the right ear, implying the influence of the left hemisphere.
Yes, at first this does just seem like a drunk psychology researcher scrounging cigarettes and calling it a study, but it really is an empirical journal article and a rare naturalistic study on brain function conducted outside of a laboratory. This means it has high ecological validity and can be applied to real life.
So what is the explanation for these findings? Well, According to several studies on hemispheric asymmetry, the left side of the brain is the one most often associated with the comprehension of language. Although the right hemisphere can also process language, it does so slower. Moreover, the left hemisphere is associated with a more positive mood and approach responses: this could explain why directing a request towards someone’s right ear means that they are more likely to comply. This research therefore implies the left hemisphere is more easily persuaded because it is associated with approach behaviours and a positive mood, not just because it processes language faster.
Crusco, A. H. and Wetzel, C. G. 1984. The Midas Touch The Effects of Interpersonal touch on Restaurant Tipping. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 10 (4)