Communicative Implications of Playful Touch
Playful touch is designed to lighten an interaction and possibly give double meaning to a verbal message (Jones & Yarbrough, 1985). For example, you might tell a friend, “I hate always losing to you” while punching her or him playfully on the arm.
Jones and Yarbrough classified playful touch as affectionate or aggressive. Both forms of touch help lighten an interaction.
Playful affection includes behaviours such as saying, “how about a kiss?” in a joking way to an opposite-sex friend, followed by a quick kiss on the forehead.
Playful aggression includes behaviours such as “getting someone back” by tickling them, engaging in mock aggression such as wrestling in a playful way, or curbing aggressive verbal comments with touch. For example, one of Yarbrough and Jone’s participants reported following an aggressive comment to a waitress (“No, we don’t want the check—tear it up”) with a smile and light touch to her arm.
Some studies suggest that certain types of touch, such as sitting on one’s lap, tickling someone, or play wrestling are often interpreted differently by women and men. Women are more likely to perceive these types of touch as playful, whereas men are more likely to perceive them as sexual (Pisano, Wall, & Foster, 1986).