Functions Touch

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  • Touch is a powerful tool in human communication, conveying a wide range of emotions and intentions beyond spoken words. This article explores four key functions of touch: support, power, affiliation, and aggression.

The Features and Communicative Functions of Touch

  1. Providing Comfort and Support

    Touch plays a vital role in expressing and receiving emotional support. A gentle touch from a loved one can offer reassurance, comfort, and a sense of connection. Studies have shown that tactile communication is particularly effective in easing anxiety and promoting emotional well-being. In healthcare settings, nurses who use appropriate touch are perceived as more caring and competent. However, it's crucial to consider cultural norms and gender differences when initiating touch, as some individuals may perceive it differently.

  2. Signaling Power and Status

    Touch can also be used to establish dominance and social hierarchy. Research suggests that those in positions of power tend to initiate touch more frequently. People often perceive those who touch them to be more powerful or assertive. This dynamic is evident even in social structures like India's caste system, where "untouchables" are forbidden from touching higher castes.

  3. Building Affiliation and Intimacy

    The frequency and type of touch can reveal the closeness of a relationship. Couples who touch more often typically report greater intimacy and satisfaction. However, men and women may interpret touch differently. Women tend to associate touch with emotional commitment more than men, especially as intimacy deepens. Touch patterns also evolve over time. Men often initiate touch more during courtship, while women become more frequent initiators in established relationships.

  4. Expressing Aggression and Domination

    Touch can also be used to express aggression or dominance. Shoving, hitting, and other unwanted physical contact are all forms of aggressive touch. Inappropriate touching in professional settings can create discomfort and disrupt productivity. Therapists, for example, typically avoid touch except for a handshake, due to potential misinterpretations and the sensitive nature of the therapeutic relationship.

Beyond the Four Functions

While support, power, affiliation, and aggression are core functions of touch, Argyle (1986) highlights its role in social interactions like greetings, goodbyes, and celebrations. In these cases, touch works in conjunction with other nonverbal cues like eye contact and gestures to effectively convey specific messages.


Touch is a multifaceted communication tool that shapes our interactions and relationships. Understanding its various functions allows us to use touch effectively to express ourselves and build stronger connections with others. It's important to be mindful of cultural norms, gender differences, and the context of the situation to ensure touch is interpreted appropriately.

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  • References
    • Nonverbal Communication, Interaction, and Gesture: Selections from SEMIOTICA, edited by Adam Kendon, Thomas A. Sebeok, Jean Umiker-Sebeok

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