, Volume 7, Issue 9, pp 889-894

The influence of sex-role expectations on the perception of touch

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Eighty-seven male and female university students were shown one of three videotapes of a male and a female having a conversation. The three videotapes were identical, except for the beginning and end, where in one condition the male touched the female on the shoulder, in another the female touched the male, in the last neither touched. After they had watched a videotape, subjects were asked to rate the male and the female on 17 descriptive adjectives. Touch condition significantly changed ratings on two clusters of adjectives: the “dominant” cluster for the female; and the “passive” cluster for the male. The female was seen as most “dominant” (stereotypically male) when she touched, the male as most “passive” (stereotypically female) when he was touched. These results are discussed in terms of Henley's (1977) theory of touch as a power symbol.

This research was done in fulfillment of a senior thesis requirement at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The author would like to express appreciation to Joanne Bowsman and Roy Pentangelo, for their acting skills; Dennis Speer, for his work on the videotape; Jeanne Tschann, for her assistance with the statistical analysis; Wendy Martyna, David Harrington, and Dane Archer, for their helpful comments; and Barry McLaughlin, for his advice and support.