Touch Avoidance

What Is Touch Avoidance?

Touch avoidance, according to Andersen and Lustig (1987), is defined as a measure of a person’s attitude toward touching, where being touched produces varying degrees of discomfort.

Andersen et al., observed that “touch-avoidant individuals” touch when they are required to do so, but they find the touching to be an unpleasant experience. Their survey of the touch-avoidance practices of almost 4,000 subjects nationwide produced one finding of particular relevance to touching norms: Opposite-sex touch avoidance was higher for females than males. Thus, males appear to seek actively to touch females, whereas females exhibit a significantly greater tendency to avoid touch with males than vice versa.

Interestingly, the frequency with which we touch and are touched seems to affect our self-concept Opens in new window. Results from the touch-avoidance study just identified indicate that as people’s predisposition to be touch-avoidant increases, their desire to communicate with others decreases, their communication style becomes less open, and, most importantly, they tend to have lower self-esteem.

Fromme and colleagues (1989) supported and amplified those findings. Individuals who reported a high level of “touch comfort” were also found to be better socialized and less reticent and shy than their touch-avoidant counterparts.

Touch comfort was found to be associated with effective interpersonal skills, assertiveness, an absence of negative affective states, and an effective style of self-presentation (Fielf, 2002; Fromme et al., 1989; Guerrero & Anderson, 1994; Jones & Brown, 1996; Stenzel & Rupert, 2004).