Your Relationship Could Really Benefit from Affectionate Touch


From the moment babies are born, they need affectionate touch from their caregivers to develop a sense of secure attachment. As people get older, this need lessens, but that doesn’t mean touch is no longer important.

In a new study published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal, Professor Cheryl Carmichael (Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center)  looks at how attachment patterns impact how people in romantic relationships receive and accept affectionate touch. She and fellow researchers studied the differences among people with high anxiety, who tend to need more touch, and people with “avoidant” attachment styles, which mean they don’t require much touch and may even view it as being “intrusive.”

The researchers found that, despite a  person’s attachment style, affectionate touch is beneficial to everyone.

“There’s an abundance of evidence that suggests that relationships are crucial to our well-being, to our happiness, to our health. We’re inherently social beings. We found in this data that there are stress-relieving benefits associated with receiving and giving touch,” Carmichael says.

“Even avoidant people who say they don’t like touch and give less touch to their partners, they don’t benefit any less when they get touch! The overall pattern is that giving and receiving touch is beneficial.”

Carmichael’s research focuses on romantic relationships, so the study looks deeply at how attachment styles between partners impact touch. She says that romantic relationships benefit from this touch even when one person has an avoidant attachment style.

“It’s important to realize just how much subtle things we may be doing in our day-to-day encounters with our romantic partners may actually be very powerful,” she continues.

“We found that providing touch and receiving touch both independently had effects on several different relationship outcomes: how close you feel to your partner, how good you feel your relationship is that day, how responded to you feel by your partner, and how much you’re willing to accommodate or go out of your way for them.”

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work

Security-Based Differences in Touch Behavior and Its Relational Benefits
Social Psychological and Personality Science , 2020

Work By

Cheryl Carmichael (Assistant Professor , Psychology) | Profile 1

Bonus Content

"We Could All Benefit From a Hug" (The Graduate Center)