Social touch deprivation during COVID-19: effects on psychological wellbeing and craving interpersonal touch

Mariana von Mohr Ballina, Louise P Kirsch, Aikaterini Fotopoulou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social touch has positive effects on social affiliation and stress
alleviation. However, its ubiquitous presence in human life
does not allow the study of social touch deprivation ‘in the
wild’. Nevertheless, COVID-19-related restrictions such as
social distancing allowed the systematic study of the degree
to which social distancing affects tactile experiences and
mental health. In this study, 1746 participants completed an
online survey to examine intimate, friendly and professional
touch experiences during COVID-19-related restrictions, their
impact on mental health and the extent to which touch
deprivation results in craving touch. We found that intimate
touch deprivation during COVID-19-related restrictions is
associated with higher anxiety and greater loneliness even
though this type of touch is still the most experienced during
the pandemic. Moreover, intimate touch is reported as the
type of touch most craved during this period, thus being
more prominent as the days practising social distancing
increase. However, our results also show that the degree to
which individuals crave touch during this period depends on
individual differences in attachment style: the more anxiously
attached, the more touch is craved; with the reverse pattern
for avoidantly attached. These findings point to the
important role of interpersonal and particularly intimate
touch in times of distress and uncertainty.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number9
Early online date8 Sept 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Sept 2021

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