Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A simple touch can make a big difference.

Liking and compliance go hand in hand. When we like someone, we are more likely to comply to their requests (Goei et al, 2003). Whether or not we like someone can be affected by many different factors such as a person’s physical attractiveness, whether or not we deem them to be similar to ourselves, whether the person is familiar to us and, even something as trivial as whether not the person pays us a compliment. All of these have been found to have a significant affect on our levels of compliance (Cialdini, 2009), but one aspect of liking that hasn’t had a lot of attention is the idea of touch.

Touch has been found to lead people to perceive the person touching them more positively (Wycoff & Holley, 1990; Hornik, 1992b).  Therefore, perhaps when someone is more tactile with us, we will like them more and as a result might be more likely to comply to their requests. Gueguen (2002) investigated this idea by conducting a study to examine the effects of touch on compliance in women.

226 women (between 18 and 50 years) who were seen to be walking alone on a pedestrian walk in Vannes, France were chosen at random (only women were targeted as the questionnaire was concerning a feminine product). An investigator holding a bracelet approached the women, asking them to examine the bracelet and fill in a subsequent questionnaire regarding their thoughts and opinions on the product. When asking for their collaboration, 155 of the women were touched on the forearm by the investigator for 1 to 2 seconds, the rest of the participants experienced no touch from the investigator.

Analysis showed that touch was associated with significantly higher compliance to the request. After being touched, 61.7% of the people approached were willing to answer the questionnaire compared to only 43.1% of people who weren’t touched.

They also looked at whether or not awareness of the tactual contact affected compliance levels. After answering the questionnaire, subjects were asked ‘when I came up to you to ask you to answer the questionnaire, I touched your forearm, did you notice it?’ Their answers were recorded, and the percentage of compliance with the request for subjects can be seen in Table 1.

Table 1: Percentages of Acceptance and Rejection of Request by Awareness of Touch

As you can see in Table 1, 60.4% of subjects who were aware of being touched still said yes to filling in the questionnaire, this is quite similar to the percentage of compliance within subjects who were not aware of being touched (69.6%) and thus demonstrates that there was no significant difference found between subjects who had noticed the touching and those who had not noticed.

These findings are consistent with previous research in that touch is effective in increasing compliance to a request, thus suggesting that touch is a powerful mediator of compliance. So, next time you want someone to do you a favour, try touching their arm for a few seconds and perhaps you’ll get that yes that you’re looking for!


Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and Practice. (5th ed). Boston: Pearson

Goei, R., Lindsey, L. L. M., Boster, F. J., Skalski, P. D., & Bowman, J. M. (2003). Reconsidering the effects of favors and liking on compliance. Communication Research, 30, 178-197.

Gueguen, N. (2002) Touch, awareness of touch, and compliance with a request. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 95, 355-360.

Hornik, J. (1992b) Tactile stimulation and consumer response. Journal of Consumer Research, 19, 449-458.

Wycoff, E., & Holley, J. (1990) Effects of flight attendants touch upon airline passengers perceptions of the attendant and the airline. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 71, 932-934.

Natasha Foxon.

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