Negative Affect Touch

Basic Findings in Negative Affect Touch

Neither Jones and Yarbrough (1985) nor Heslin and Alper (1983) included aggressive or negative affect touch in their classification systems. Perhaps this is because many adults have learned to inhibit these types of touch because they are hurtful and socially inappropriate.

Adults who engage in negative forms of touch may not report them in diary studies, because they know they are socially inappropriate. However, studies on relational violence suggest that physically aggressive touches do indeed occur.

In fact, a national survey suggests that 16% of married couples experience physical violence within a given year, and surveys of high school students suggest that somewhere between 12% and 36% of these students have enacted or experienced physical violence in a dating relationship (Christopher & Lloyd, 2001).

Relatively common types of violent touch include pushing, pulling, and pinching. Slapping, punching, and kicking are less common, whereas behaviours such as stabbing or beating up someone are less common still (Marshall, 1994).

Research on violence in romantic relationships indicates that men and women differ in the types of violent touch they are most likely to use. Although grabbing the partner suddenly or forcefully and pushing or shoving the partners are common forms of violent touch for both men and women, women are more likely to scratch or slap with the palm of their hand. Men, in contrast, are more likely to hold or pin down the partner, shake the partner, or otherwise handle the partner roughly (Marshall, 1994).

It is also important to note that people can use touch as an aggressive or controlling action, or they can use touch to defend themselves against violent attacks. Interestingly, children may use aggressive touch more often than adults, especially when in public situations.

Guerrero and Ebesu (1993) found that aggressive touches, such as pushing someone or touching another child while trying to pull a toy away, are fairly common among preschool-age children. Young children also displayed negative affect by engaging in affection withdrawal. For example, one boy in the study pushed a girl away and said “no” when she tried to hug him.

A study of a daycare center produced similar results, showing that children use spatial withdrawal and negative forms of touch to communicate dislike or preference for another person (Meyer & Driskill, 1997). For instance, during a conflict situation, a child moved to a different place in the circle so that she would be away from another child.

In another instance, a child moved when another child tried to sit next to her. Some hitting and kicking were also observed in Meyer and Driskill’s study. Negative forms of touch such as these appear to be used less frequently as children get older and learn norms of social appropriateness (Guerrero & Ebesu, 1993).