Touch Can Increase Compliance, Persistence, Performance

Edward T. Hall

Edward T. Hall

Fifty years ago, Edward T. Hall, then of Illinois Institute of Technology, identified differences in interpersonal space ranging from intimate to personal to social to public, and inspired examination of acceptable interpersonal distance across cultures, genders, and organizations.

Circles of Interpersonal Space

Circles of Interpersonal Space

A decade later, Chris Kleinke, then of Wheaton College, expanded Hall’s work on “proxemics” as he explored the impact of close contact in public spaces, particularly non-intimate touching.

He found that in a relatively low-touch culture like the U.S., directing gaze and touch toward others increased their compliance with ambiguous requests in laboratory experiments.

Chris Kleinke

Chris Kleinke

Since then, this finding has been incorporated in sales, learning, healthcare, and other service settings based on evidence that touch increased performance when applied after a person initially agreed to a request, in research by Oakland University Jane C. Nannberg and Christine H. Hansen.

David Vaidis

David Vaidis

“Dosage” of touch had an additive effect when University of Paris’ David Vaidis and Severine Halimi-Falkowicz of University of Provence found that people who were touched two times persisted in lengthy tasks more than people who were touched once.

Likewise, University of Missouri’s Frank N. Willis and Helen K. Hamm found that touch contributed to compliance with challenging requests, especially in gaining agreement from people of the same gender as the requestor.

Séverine Halimi-Falkowicz

Séverine Halimi-Falkowicz

Another demonstration of influential touch was when female restaurant servers briefly touched customers on the hand or the shoulder while returning change from the bill payment.

These customers’ reactions were compared with other patrons who were not touched by the servers, in research by University of Mississippi‘s  April H. Crusco and Christopher G. Wetzel of Rhodes College.

Chris Wetzel

Chris Wetzel

They evaluated customers’ reactions to service, food, setting, and other elements of the dining experience with a restaurant survey as well as the gratuity amount, expressed as a percentage of the bill.

Customers who were touched on the hand or shoulder gave the server significantly larger gratuities than those who were not touched, and there was no significant difference between tips from customers who had been touched on the hand or the shoulder.

These findings confirm the influence of interpersonal touch in public commercial settings, and offer a reminder that non-intimate touching can increase cooperation and commitment to complete lengthy or challenging tasks.

-*How have you used interpersonal touch in public work situations to enable cooperation and performance?

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2 thoughts on “Touch Can Increase Compliance, Persistence, Performance

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    Michael Enescu writed:
    I can completely vow for this – wink emoticon

    Kathryn Welds replied:
    Thanks, Michael, for your validation with real life experience of these findings from the lab!

  2. kathrynwelds Post author

    Emilia Lahti reposted on Facebook –

    Check out Harvard Uni graduate and organization psychologist Kathryn Welds’ newsletter for a weekly dose of curated research findings. This week, Kathryn takes a quick look at the curious connection between touch and our ability to perform well and persist.

    ‪#‎persistence‬ ‪#‎touch‬ ‪#‎sisu‬ ‪#‎KathrynWelds

    Kathryn Welds replied:
    #Sisu – Thank you for posting!


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