Instrumental Touch

Instrumental touch is typically one-sided, task-oriented, and has little if any personal meaning. It was termed “professional-functional” by Heslin and Alper (1983) and “task-related” by Jones and Yarbrough (2985).

Instrumental touch is so called because it helps people complete necessary tasks. When a doctor examines a patient, an usher guides people to their assigned seats, a teacher helps a student hold a pen properly, or a parent puts a child in a high chair, the touch is primarily task related.

Jones and Yarbrough noted that some task-related touches are helpful but not necessary in accomplishing a task (hand-to-hand contact when a cashier returns money to a customer), but other task-related touches are necessary to accomplish the task (helping a person put on a coat).

Edwards (1981) described several specific forms of instrumental touch.

1.   Informal pickup

The kind of touches that is tasks-related such as taking a pulse or feeling someone’s forehead to see if he or she has a fever. Here touch is used to gain information.

2.   Movement-facilitation

Movement-facilitation touches involve giving someone a boost or carrying someone to safety, such as a firefighter carrying a child out of a burning building.

3.   Prompting

Prompting touches involve providing manual guidance in learning. A golf pro might use manual touch to help clients with their swings. Similarly, a preschool teacher might guide children’s hands as they learn to place blocks in a shape sorter.

4.   Ludic

Finally, Edwards discussed ludic touches, which occur as part of games, such as playing patty-cake or tackling someone during a football game.

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Guerrero and Ebesu (1993) found that these kinds of touches were an integral part of children’s play, with children touching one another during games such as tag and ring-around-the-rosy, as well as touching while engaging in tasks such as building a sand castle or stacking blocks.