Emotion through Motion!

The act of touching has always been part of our society. Every day, we see or hear the word touch in movies or songs that are being played. No matter where we go, interacting with others through touch is inevitable. From the mere act of brushing shoulders with someone on the jeep to the act of holding someone’s hands tightly, touching can never be removed in our society today. Even in Facebook, the act of “poking” is possible, for the creators recognize the fact that as human individuals, we need the feeling of touch, even if it is virtual touching for that matter.

We learned in class that emotions are best detected through visual as well as auditory means. In fact, a lot of researches have already showed that indeed, our eyes and our ears are the best ways for us to interpret the different sorts of emotions that other people are feeling. One can use the facial expressions, as well as the differences in pitch, tone and content of a person’s speech to interpret these emotions, but is it possible for us to detect emotions only through the perception of motion and touch?

There aren’t really a lot of researches that discusses the relationship between touch and emotions. In fact, when I was first faced with the aforementioned question, I didn’t immediately think of how it was possible. But fortunately, some researchers made it possible.

In one experiment by Hertenstein, Holmes, McCullough and Keltner (2009), touching in relation to emotions was studied. The researchers basically tried to see whether emotions presented by an individual can be clearly perceived another through the mere act of touching. They got 248 participants, each individual randomly paired with another. For each pair, the experimenters assigned one as an encoder and another as a decoder. For the encoder, his first task was to think about how he wanted to communicate the following eight emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, sympathy, love and gratitude. Afterwards, he was asked portray each emotion by making contact with the decoder’s body through touch. Of course, he was instructed to touch only the body parts that were deemed appropriate, for the decoder might feel sexually harassed if he was touched someplace else. On the other hand, the decoder’s task was to choose from the choices of the eight emotions he felt was being presented to him.  In addition, a choice of none of the above was also given. Throughout the entire experiment, the decoder was blindfolded and the encoder was reminded not to speak with at all.

Their results show that the emotions of anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy, happiness and sadness were significantly detected and decoded accurately by the decoders. It is important to note that the last two emotions of happiness and sadness were previously not decoded at significant levels. Though the research doesn’t give a possible reason for why the results of their experiment vary with the previous studies, it is important to note that this research has still given new contributions to the field of emotions and perception.

The guy probably feels love.

The researchers were able to prove there are specific tactile behaviors associated with each of the emotions. In short, there are specific types of touching which serve as cues for the perception of different emotions. For example, “fear was communicated by holding the other, squeezing, and contact without movement, whereas sympathy was communicated by holding the other, patting, and rubbing.” It shows that the tactile system is very complex and that there are different factors which can affect this perception, such as intensity, temperature, duration, location, and velocity. The research also shows the possibility of equipotentiality, which refers to the “idea that the same type of touch can be assigned very different meanings or consequences”. This is a further implication of how the mind is very complex and how it can process very complex stimuli.

Though I’ve said that I couldn’t really imagine how emotions can possibly be perceived through touching, this research has proven otherwise. It just shows how the brain can perceive through the use of the different senses. Even if there are different ways on how the perceptual process begins, there is still a possibility that the result will be the same.

What better way to describe this research than through the the lyrics of a song? This song, “Sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much, and I have to close my eyes..” is probably the best embodiment of this study. The individual had to close his eyes through the use of the blindfold in order to feel the touch of the other, and this touch caused him to feel the person’s true emotions. So the next time someone sings this song, you’ll be able to remember the link between emotions and touching.



Hertenstein,M. J.,  Holmes,R., McCullough, R. Keltner, D. (2009). The communication of emotion via touch. Emotion, 9(4), 566–573.


~ by myfivesenseworth on October 5, 2011.

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