Social touch technologies: how they feel and how they make you feel

Christian Jacob Arendt Maria Willemse

    Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

    584 Downloads (Pure)


    Social Touch, such as holdings hands or hugs, forms an important communication modality in our daily lives. Touches can elicit a plethora of physiological, psychological, and behavioral effects in the recipient. A hug can for example decrease physiological stress responses, holding hands can intensify the mutual bond, and a casual touch on the shoulder can increase one’s willingness to comply with a request. Haptic actuators can be utilized to emulate human touches, with the intention to elicit similar responses in the recipient. In the dissertation, I present research on two different types of such social touch technologies: Mediated Social Touch (i.e., ICT-enabled touch between two remotely located people), in which we focused on the role that physical warmth can play. and Simulated Social Touch (which is initiated by artificial social agents), for which we focused on robot-initiated touch. The main questions were 1.) whether each touch technology can elicit similar responses in the recipient as human touches, and 2.) how elements such as context, social relation, and design of the technology modulate these responses.

    On the premise that perceiving (non-social) physical warmth can elicit feelings of social warmth (feeling more connected to another person), we investigated whether physical warmth as an element in Mediated Social Touch can elicit ’socially warm’ responses in the recipient. Three studies, in which participants perceived physical warmth through remotely controlled interfaces (such as a heated Teddy Bear), did not provide evidence for beneficial effects of warmth. With regard to Simulated Social Touch though, we demonstrated that robot-initiated touches can elicit beneficial responses (such as an enhanced bond with a robot and decreased physiological stress responses), albeit only under specific circumstances. The recipient of the touch should be familiar with the robot’s capabilities before being touched, and ideally, the robot has a friendly but not too human appearance. The research as presented demonstrates that social touch technologies can elicit responses that are comparable to responses to human touches, but only within specific boundary conditions. As such, the dissertation provides extensive groundwork for further research on the opportunities and limitations of social touch technologies.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Twente
    • Heylen, Dirk K.J., Supervisor
    • van Erp, Jan B., Supervisor
    Award date23 Nov 2018
    Place of PublicationEnschede
    Print ISBNs978-90-365-4662-1
    Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2018


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