Interpretations, Evaluations, and Consequences of Interpersonal Touch


  • A previous version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association held in Dublin, Ireland, June 1990. Requests for reprints should be directed to the first author, Department of Communication, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721.


Key elements of an expectancy violations (EV) framework are forwarded as a possible organizing framework for understanding how touch functions in interpersonal communication. Central to applying an EV framework to touch is assessing the expectedness, interpretations, and evaluations of touch and its influence on such communication outcomes as evaluations of communicator attractiveness and credibility. To address these considerations, an experiment required participants to engage in dyadic problem-solving discussions during which they were touched or not touched by high-valence (attractive, high status, expert) or low-valence (unattractive, low status, inexpert) confederates. Brief touches by high-valence communicators were less expected than from low-valence communicators but positively evaluated from both. Touch also carried many favorable relational message interpretations, and the combination of touch and high communicator valence generally produced the highest credibility and attraction ratings. Some gender effects emerged, which appeared to moderate touch effects. Results suggest that brief touches among strangers may have positive consequences, especially when initiated by high-valence communicators, for whom they may qualify as positive violations.