Touching Behaviour in Conversational Dyads

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Touching Behaviour in Conversational Dyads
Mark-Odean Grant
University of the West Indies, Mona

December 8, 2006

Humans are social and diversely interactive beings. As a result, there is the frequent practice of touching during conversation. This touching may be the conscious decision of individuals, as well as simply a spontaneous form of expression or response. An operational definition of touching would involve the initiation of physical contact between two individuals; for example, shaking hands (Fowler and Fowler, 1969). A conversation involves communication between two individuals by word of mouth (Fowler and Fowler, 1969). Touching as a complement of conversation is very common, but much study has not been done to determine the underlying bases or principles that govern touching behaviour during conversation in the Caribbean, and more specifically, Jamaica. As a result, there is not much empirical knowledge in regards to touching behaviour and the variables that influence frequency (e.g. culture, nature of relationships, gender, age, class, etc.) in the Caribbean region. Research carried out by Henley (1973) suggest that in public places men more likely to initiate touching in conversations than female; it was interpreted to mean that touching was symbolic of the male's need to control and dominate. This essentially highlights the importance of cultural and historical bases in the initiation and progression of social interaction. Hall and Veccia (1990) investigated the frequency of touch initiated by individuals of different genders. They found that males generally initiated touching more than females, but this varied when the variable of age was considered. More specifically, in young dyads, male were the more common initiators, while in older dyads, female were the more common initiators. Dibiasse and Gunnoe (2004) found that there are significantly differences in touching behaviour as a result of the impact of culture and gender. There sample consisted of participant form Italy, Czech Republic and United States. They found that Italians touched more frequently than the other groups. This is as a result of their socialisation and culture. Accordingly, it can be understood that culture plays a crucial role in determining touching behaviour. The purpose of the present study was to investigate touching behaviour in conversational dyads. The specific aim was to acquire data about the frequency of touches during conversation between the three sets of dyads (female-female, male-male and female-male). Touches were divided as hand touches (e.g. hand to hand, hand to face, hand to leg, hand to shoulder, etc.) and body touches (e.g. body to body, kissing and hugging). Variables impacting touching behaviour were not considered in process of observation. The frequency of the different touches was simply recorded. This study is very useful and valuable as it adds to cross-cultural knowledge on touching behaviour; Caribbean literature in this area is non-existent or extremely limited. Also, this observational study is explorative research that forms the basis for more advanced and structured research into the variable that influence touching behaviour in the Caribbean. Variables such as culture, age, gender, religion, and so forth, are very significant in determining the prevalence of touch during conversation. There were two hypotheses for this observational study. First, the frequency of hand touches will be highest for male-female dyads, followed by female-female dyads, then male-male dyads. Second, male-male dyads will have a significantly lower frequency for body touches than both female-female and male-female dyads. Method

Participants were 165 dyads (55 F-F, 55 M-M and 55 M-F). These dyads were conveniently selected and observed (based on the discretion of the researchers) at the University of the West Indies, Mona. No demographic information...
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