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Social interaction and touch initiation in public places

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 3475 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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‘Touch’- is a fundamental behaviourism of non-verbal communication within the human species – it can be both powerful or subtle, and very complex. This observational study investigates the behaviour of non-verbal communication (NVC) in relation to touch initiation in public places. The group studied are of latter adolescent stage, and opposite sex couples. Henley started the first touching behaviour model – “and found a striking tendency for women to be touched more by men than the reverse” Henley (1973-1977) jstor/LaFrance,M. Touching behaviour can be sexual or platonic, and is an important part of animal and human communication. Touch differs depending on religious back-ground, gender, age, race and the social society for which people live in. In this observational study the initiation between opposite genders will be explored. The investigation was carried out within a shopping precinct, using a naturalistic observational method of design, using independent subjects. The results were analysed using the nominal data method.

The conclusions drawn are that we accept the theory that backs up Henley’s previous works in that “men touch females more in public places”, and thus concludes that the alternate hypothesis can be accepted in favour of the null hypothesis.


This study will look at and explore the subject of ‘Non Verbal Communication’ (NVC) i.e. sending wordless communicatory expressive signals, and can be displayed from all of the main senses, touch, taste, smell, sound and sight.

NVC shows the ‘Self’ by touch, posture, facial expression gesture and ‘paralanguage’.

Paralanguage is the non-verbal communication type, that can be displayed consciously or un-consciously, and can also play a part in the vocal element of speech, the study of paralanguage is called ‘paralinguistic’s’, the effect on the vocal element of speech is pronounced with how we may be feeling emotionally, and can adjust the vocal sounds by the tone of how we speak, and the attitude or feeling we put into it, paralanguage plays an important part in portraying to others how a person feels.

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There are many different languages spoken in the world, and the need for non-verbal communication (NVC) is important, to enable individuals who are unable to speak a foreign language communicate to another person by hand gestures, and improvisation techniques. So it can be seen that ‘Non-verbal communication’ is an important part of communicating, both within the conscious and subconscious mind. The procedure enabling the function of NVC occurs biologically, sending signals to the cortex through the neurotransmitters and alerting the brain into sending other messages to the muscles and impulse reactors to various parts of the body. Such reaction can even cause people to act subconsciously to situations of danger, the (flee or flight) effect, without consciously evaluating a predicament. Although many words spoken are only understood in certain cultures, if they are accompanied by either hand signals or facial expressions the mind can automatically respond to this signal, although this does depend on the cultural expression of ‘NVC’ and how others decipher its expression. For example eye contact while greeting a person in European countries, is accepted as a positive form of NVC, where as in some other eastern societies sustained eye contact is not an accepted form of NVC in greeting behaviour, Hall (1959) further explores this theory in his study called the silent language, noting that “I am convinced that much of our difficulty with people in other countries stems from the fact that so little is known about cross-cultural communication” (Hall, 1959, p.10). However as discussed, in situations of danger many vocal, hand and facial expressions trigger an in-built association that sends signals to the cortex, thus reacting upon learnt behaviourisms. In this context the importance of NVC cannot be underestimated, within the core root of NVC there are two sub-divisions, and these are called the ‘Nature/Nurture’ theory. The ‘Nature theory’ is biological and is built into the human psyche at the start of our evolutionary roots – this can be explained as animal instincts, and often used for survival. The ‘Nurture theory’ is the way thought processes are learnt and modelled by parental or cultural learning’s.

It is widely accepted that non verbal communication is approximately 90% of all human communication, and considerable amounts of this information is sent and received by the subconscious mind, this information falls into many categories such as reproduction, awareness/survival and care and protection of the species, this is all part of mans learning, and storing information in the conscious and subconscious to ensure the survival of the species.

The NVC element of Touch has a link to ‘Proxemics’ (space and distance) as modelled and defined by Hall (1950-1960) as the ‘perception and use of space’. Givens,d.b (2010) and is separated into four subsections: Social, Public, Intimate and personal, these subsections have a tendency to vary according to national and cultural behaviours. Touching (Haptics) behaviour can be sexual or platonic, and is an important part of animal and human communication. Other theorist who have studied the discipline of ‘Proxemics’ and ‘Haptics’ are Henley (1977) Burgoon et.al (1978) and Remland (1982)

Adolescent behaviour can start to develop in wanting to be more separated from parental control, and wanting to be responsible for the ‘self’, this is part of the development process, hormonal changes can effect behaviourism and change how adolescent couples display gender dominance, this can be shown in the male, who tries to assert male dominance over the female, as a show of ownership or possession, in a majority of cases this behaviour is an accepted model of behaviourism, as the subconscious mind has been nurtured with a pre disposing idealism of this stereotypical display.

Touch differs depending on religious back-ground, gender, age, race and the social society for which we live in. This study is based on the NVC of ‘touch’ initiation between males and females within public places, various theorist have presented other works in relation to NVC and touch, and it is discussed that the male is the more dominant character, then the female, aspiring to past stereotypes of the male figure, taking control, leading and being the head of the household, and even though the female has become much more empowered from the days that women could not vote, the female still accepts the male as a instigator of touch, this is probably from a built-in subconscious level of acceptance. Henley (1973-1977) further explores this theory in her study called Body politics: Power, sex, and nonverbal communication, noting that there is “a striking tendency for women to be touched more by men than the reverse” Henley (1973-1977) Jstor/LaFrance,M. Henley (1977) stated that, “males have the prerogative to initiate touch” (Taylor Enochson J, A et al. (1999). Henley explores the fact that male touch initiation may be more to do with status than of affection.

This paper will now explore and critically assess Henley’s 1973-1977 research and other works relating to the subject, of ‘N.V.C’, behavior of ‘touch’ in public places.

Henley’s works and other observational studies are subject to interpretation, as to the validity of the results being obtained, by a purely naturalistic observation research method, which does not take into account any specific variables. These studies purely ascertain who, when or where the person touches first. The variables that are not included are why the touch has been initiated, and for what reason, purely stating who touches who first is open to debate as to what the study is actually achieving. The comments of the researchers in regard to male dominance and other such attributes are purely speculative, as there is no evidence to support these judgments and they may come from subconscious stereotyping. The problems that this type of research presents can be both ethical, and frowned upon within the research community, (if it is not necessary to observe without prior consent from participants), although observational studies have known to be a successful form of data collection. Another dilemma of this form of research method is that if it does not evaluate variants of race/class/age/gender.


The ‘Aim’ of this investigation, is to compile a naturalistic observational study such as the theory by ‘Henley 1977. This observational study will evaluate participant’s behaviour in relation to the NVC element of ‘touch’ initiation within public places. The study will represent both sexes, within the latter adolescent category. This experiment will compare its finding with other theories and hypothesis. Further evaluation of findings will be evaluated using the nominal data method. The results will then be analysed, and concluded.


Hi -Adolescent males significantly initiate touch on female partners in public places.

Ho- Adolescent males do not significantly initiate touch on female partners in public places.



This is a naturalistic observational study based within a shopping precinct, with random data sampling, that will include observing couple’s, within a forty second time-frame, using independent subjects design, and data analysis using nominal data charts.


40 opposite sex couples

Comprising of Forty males, and forty females

Latter Adolescent Age Band (Approx-17-20 years)


Raw data Chart: (see Appendix A and B) on page 15.


The naturalistic observational study was set up within a shopping precinct between the hours of 1200pm and 1400pm on a Saturday afternoon, the weather is described as warm and sunny.

The participants were naturalistically observed for 40 seconds while entering and exiting a high street fashion store for the younger generation. This is prevalent in obtaining more adolescent subjects for the project, the subject’s were not aware of being observed. The reason the study took place at this location was that on prior evaluation in the area, it showed that unless there was a break in the normal walking behaviour, there would be no change in the way people touched, but by adding a shop entrance into the equation, this would instigate a change in touching behaviour and the chance to observe the pattern of that behaviour. The participants will include at random sample of opposite sex couples, forty females, and forty males. With the use of a raw data chart, the observer will note the first touch instigated by either partner, this will be carefully noted onto the raw data chart, and then re-evaluated against the expected data. The use of nominal statistical analyses will then be performed, using the two tailed design, with a significance value at <0.05.

Pie Chart: Showing Statistics and Percentage results of ‘touch’ behaviour

Green= Females touching Hands, Arms- Shoulders.

Blue= Males touching Hands, Arms-Shoulders.

Red= Males touching Back and Upper-Leg.

Statistical Data

Bar Chart demonstrating the findings of ‘touch’ on various body parts


Contingency Tables:

See Appendix on page 14 for Contingency Table (A) showing the Observational data collected

See Appendix on page 14 for Contingency Table (B) showing the Observed data collected and Expected Values


The method used for analysing the data presented, is the nominal data method and the chi-squared test has been chosen to analyse the findings, this type of test categorises data, the method used is the RxC (row x column) for this independent design.

Chi-Squared statistical data showing the degrees of freedom (1df)

Bar Chart: representing the results of Cross-Gender ‘Touch’ Observations using the chi-square evaluation method


Within this study, adolescent males were significantly shown to initiate ‘touch’ on female adolescents within a public area, with a 70 – 30 % significance ratio in favour of male instigation. The analysis concluded 1 df (degree of freedom) at the 1% level, with a calculated chi-square value of 7.3469 which is above the required figure at 1% level of significance of 6.6349, therefore the null is rejected in favour of the alternate hypothesis.


The observational study has confirmed that males initiate ‘touch’ within public places – this conclusion backs up other studies of its kind. As the results show the percentage of male instigation of ‘touch’ is 70%, with the highest amount of ‘touch’ recorded being males initiating hand touch. This behaviour of hand ‘touch’ is prevalent as this behaviourism has links to intimacy, where as the females where recorded at their highest level at 30% of touching initiation, this being the arms and back area of the male, although affectionate or helpful in its display it is not perceived as purely intimidate as ‘hand-touch’. Female ‘touch initiation as shown in the bar-chart on page (8) of this report confirms the fact that female touch is significantly less than the male touch initiation.

Although the findings could be biased in a number of ways, such as there was no pre-evaluation of race, reflection of the population and location, social class or relationship type. The ages of the subjects may be prejudiced with the evaluation of the observer, who has possibly not correctly identified their ages, but purely pre-conceived the age needed for observation. Touch can be varied or shown in different ways, depending on the location or situation, the male may feel that in certain situations he may need to visually show ownership of the female, if he feels threatened or wants to prove ownership. “Touch can communicate affection and reassurance, but non-reciprocal touching also expresses power in relationship, in which the toucher is perceived as dominant or with higher status than the recipient of the touch. (Major 1981) pg 108

This study also does not take into account gender, race and location, this influences the data presented as bias, as the subjects where all Caucasian, and only one location was chosen, this was strictly limited to one small area within a city centre. It is known that even within Europe there are variations of proximity, i.e. Italians have a closer affinity to space then the English. Remland et,al. (1991) conducted an observational study on ‘proxemics’ and ‘haptics’ within European countries, such as Holland, France and England, the study looked at whether ‘proxemics’ and ‘haptics’ impacted race, gender and age-differences, their chosen observation method was carried out using hidden video cameras. This is a possible improvement in collecting data, as a wider radius of area can be covered, and also more than one researcher can evaluate the data, thus having a less chance of interpreter bias. ‘Remlands’ study was able to provide evidence that there was no difference in the effect on proximity and touching behaviour by age, group gender or individual gender. It is a known fact that there is limited data on touch especially in Asian and Middle Eastern countries, thus limiting global comparisons of behaviour.

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Non verbal communication between young people has changed in regard to various elements – such as the use of modern technology i.e. computers, text’s and e-mail facilities, all have no personal contact within its use, in regard to ‘proxemics’ and personal space, facial expression, and personal interaction, this could bring social isolation – and may have an effect on society, with the lack of nurturing within the younger generation, and the mirroring effect on future generations.

This observational report also has ethical dilemmas, with the lack of informed consent from its subjects and possibly an invasion of privacy. (With un-consented observational studies the research institutions may disapprove, if the research was deemed to be un-necessary).

Although the importance of the observational method of research is still highly valuable within research, it does hold various biases which need to be balanced, in matter of relevance and importance.

The conclusions drawn are that we accept the theory that backs up Henley’s previous works in that “men touch females more in public places” and thus concludes that the alternate hypothesis can be accepted in favour of the null hypothesis.


In this study, male adolescents were shown to be significantly more dominant, within the boundaries of the research project, than were females.

This is shown in the pie chart as a 70% ratio, for ‘male touch’ initiation within public places, and confirms the theorist’s findings of Henley and Major,

There are various dilemmas of how an observation study is performed as discussed.

Researchers however can get a more realistic sense of human behaviour, while following the ‘naturalistic’ method of observation. If the animal species are within their natural environment this can hold significant data analyse for research, within the human and animal study of behaviour, therefore this type of research cannot be dismissed, as observational data is an invaluable tool in the research field, to enable an inside view of behavioural activity. This study has shown significant evidence that ‘touch’ is one element of non-verbal communication, but is absolutely paramount in the survival of the species.

Total words: 2745


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