Touch is our primary non-verbal communication channel for conveying intimate emotions and as such essential for our physical and emotional wellbeing. In our digital age, human social interaction is often mediated. However, even though there is increasing evidence that mediated touch affords affective communication, current communication systems (such as videoconferencing) still do not support communication through the sense of touch. As a result, mediated communication does not provide the intense affective experience of co-located communication. The need for ICT mediated or generated touch as an intuitive way of social communication is even further emphasized by the growing interest in the use of touch-enabled agents and robots for healthcare, teaching, and telepresence applications. Here, we review the important role of social touch in our daily life and the available evidence that affective touch can be mediated reliably between humans and between humans and digital agents. We base our observations on evidence from psychology, computer science, sociology, and neuroscience with focus on the first two. Our review shows that mediated affective touch can modulate physiological responses, increase trust and affection, help to establish bonds between humans and avatars or robots, and initiate pro-social behavior. We argue that ICT mediated or generated social touch can (a) intensify the perceived social presence of remote communication partners and (b) enable computer systems to more effectively convey affective information. However, this research field on the crossroads of ICT and psychology is still embryonic and we identify several topics that can help to mature the field in the following areas: establishing an overarching theoretical framework, employing better research methodologies, developing basic social touch building blocks, and solving specific ICT challenges.
- HMI-MI: MULTIMODAL INTERACTIONS