Hybrid Touch

Communicative Implications of Hybrid Touch

Hybrid touch occurs as a combination of various types of touch. According to Jones and Yarbrough’s (1985) study, the most common type of hybrid touch combines affectionateOpens in new window and socially polite touchOpens in new window.

In these cases, people use touch to say hello or good-bye while communicating intimacy and affectionOpens in new window. Husbands and wives might kiss each other in the morning and evening when leaving for and returning from work.

Friends might hug each other when reunited after a separation. Jones and Yarbrough noted that these types of hybrid touches tend to be more intense and affectionate the longer people have been separated from one another.

Although Jones and Yarbrough did not identify any other specific types of hybrid touches, other combinations could occur. Studies have shown that instrumental touch often fulfills multiple functions in interactions between adults and young children.

A caregiver might hug a child after catching him or her during a game of tag (Meyer & Driskill, 1997) or tickle a child’s feet while swinging the youngster (Guerrero & Ebesu, 1993), both of which are instrumental touches Opens in new window that also show affection.

Studies of children undergoing cancer have also identified a hybrid type of touch that functions in both an instrumental and controlling way. For example, a caregiver may need to hold a child down during a treatment (Peterson et al., 2007).

Parents were more likely to engage in these types of instrumental Opens in new window/controlling Opens in new window touches before and during procedures that were painful and distressing to the child, and they were more likely to engage in supportive touches after a painful procedure as a way to provide comfort (Peterson et al., 2007).

Other examples of hybrid touch abound. Teammates use high fives and pats on the butt to say “good job” (fulfilling a congratulatory/appreciative function) and to try to “psyche one another up” to win the game (fulfilling an instrumental function). A mother might slap her son’s hand to keep him from touching the stove, which could signal both controlOpens in new window and negative affectOpens in new window.

You might put suntan lotion on your romantic partner’s back, which accomplishes a task but also shows affection. Thus, in everyday life, it is often difficult to categorize a particular type of touch as falling under a single category.

It can also be difficult to interpret some types of touch. For instance, how do you know when someone is using real versus mock aggression? If your romantic partner is wrestling with you, when does it cross the line and become threatening rather than playful?

The answers to questions such as this would help us understand the communication dynamics behind haptic behavior even better than we do today.