Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Touchy Feely
11 December 2015

Touchy Feely

A touch on the arm from your partner or a friendly punch on the leg from a friend: both examples of social touching you might welcome. But what about other people you know? Adult volunteers were asked to pick areas of their bodies that male or female members of their social network (labelled in red or blue) would be allowed to touch. These body maps show the consensus of 1,368 volunteers from five European countries. White areas on the front of the body (top row) or the back (bottom row) show places where touching is allowed, becoming less comfortable through the orange and red areas, towards black. 'Taboo' zones, outlined in blue, are largest for distant acquaintances and strangers. How open we are to touching appears to directly reflect the closeness of our relationships – possibly allowing body mapping to help diagnose conditions like autism, where social touching is often rejected.

Written by John Ankers

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