Touch research conducted by Jones and Yarborough (1985) revealed 18 different meanings of touch, grouped in seven types: Positive affect (emotion), playfulness, control, ritual, hybrid (mixed), task-related, and accidental touch.
Different Types of Touches.
These touches communicate positive emotions and occur mostly between persons who have close relationships. They can be further classified as support, appreciation inclusion, sexual interest or intent, and affection.
Support: Serve to nurture, reassure, or promise protection. These touches generally occur in situations which either virtually require or make it clearly preferable that one person show concern for another who is experiencing distress.
Appreciation: Express gratitude for something another person has done. Inclusion: Draw attention to the act of being together and suggest psychological closeness. Sexual: Express physical attraction or sexual interest. Affection: Express generalized positive regard beyond mere acknowledgement of the other.
These touches serve to lighten an interaction. They can communicate a double message since they always involve a play signal, either verbal or non-verbal, which indicates the behaviour is not to be taken seriously. They can be further classified as affectionate and aggressive.
Playful affection: Serve to lighten interaction. The seriousness of the positive message is diminished by the play signal. These touches indicate teasing and are usually mutual. Playful aggression: Like playful affection these touches are used to serve to lighten interaction, however, the play signal indicates aggression. These touches are initiated, rather than mutual.
A police officer pats a child on the head.
These touches serve to direct the behaviour, attitude, or feeling state of the recipient. The key feature of these touches is that almost all of the touches are initiated by the person who attempts influence. They can be further classified as compliance, attention-getting, and announcing a response.
Compliance: Attempts to direct behaviour of another person, and often, by implication, to influence attitudes or feelings. Attention-getting: Serve to direct the touch recipient’s perceptual focus toward something. Announcing a response: Call attention to and emphasize a feeling state of initiator; implicitly requests affect response from another.
These touches consist of greeting and departure touch. They serve no other function than to help make transitions in and out of focused interaction.
Greeting: Serve as part of the act of acknowledging another at the opening of an encounter. Departure: Serve as a part of the act of closing an encounter.
These touches involve two or more of the meanings described above. They can be further classified as greeting/affection and departure/affection.
Greeting/affection: Express affection and acknowledgement of the initiation of an encounter. Departure/affection: Express affection and serve to close an encounter.
These touches are directly associated with the performance of a task. They can be further classified as reference to appearance, instrumental ancillary, and instrumental intrinsic.
Reference to appearance: Point out or inspect a body part or artefact referred to in a verbal comment about appearance. Instrumental ancillary: Occur as an unnecessary part of the accomplishment of a task. Instrumental intrinsic: Accomplish a task in and out of itself i.e., a helping touch.
These touches are perceived as unintentional and have no meaning. They consist mainly of brushes. Research by Martin in a retailing context found that male and female shoppers who were accidentally touched from behind by other shoppers left a store earlier than people who had not been touched and evaluated brands more negatively, resulting in the Accidental Interpersonal Touch effect.