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Touch between romantic partners: Being stroked is more pleasant than stroking and decelerates heart rate

Journal article
Authors Chantal Triscoli
Ilona Croy
Håkan Olausson
Uta Sailer
Published in Physiology & Behavior
Volume 177
Pages 169-175
ISSN 0031-9384
Publication year 2017
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Clinical Neuroscience
Department of Psychology
Pages 169-175
Language en
Keywords Romantic partners; Touch; Pleasantness; Heart rate
Subject categories Psychology


Introduction Touch has been found to entail positive effects in the person receiving it, whereas effects on the person giving touch have previously been unexplored. We investigated whether stroking the partner also is a pleasant experience for the person performing it, and whether it has similar effects on well-being and autonomic nervous function as being stroked or stroking oneself. Furthermore, we compared the hedonic and autonomic nervous effects of stroking the partner and self-stroking. Methods In the first experiment, 40 subjects stroked the forearm of their respective partner, while ratings of pleasantness were obtained from both Stroker and Receiver. Heart rate was monitored throughout the session and stroking velocity was tracked. The participants could not see each other faces during the experiment to avoid feedback. In experiment 2, the design was replicated with 20 subjects, and self-stroking and rest conditions were added. Results Both stroking the partner and self-stroking were performed within a velocity range optimal for activating C-tactile cutaneous afferents. Being stroked, stroking the partner, and self-stroking were all perceived as pleasant. However, being stroked entailed the significantly highest pleasantness ratings, and being stroked was the only condition that significantly decreased heart rate. Individuals in satisfying relationships were more pleased to be touched by their partner and showed a greater decline in heart rate when being touched. Discussion The data demonstrated a role for affective touch in the regulation of heart rate when being stroked. The absence of autonomic effects when providing the stroking may be due to the absence of visual feedback from the person being stroked. The high pleasantness of giving and receiving touch may foster affective tactile interactions among romantic partners, thus reinforcing the relationship.

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