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NPR Spotlights Prof's "Seminal" Research on Communicating Through Touch

October 18, 2006

Matt Hertenstein 2006.jpgOctober 18, 2006, Greencastle, Ind. - Audio Link [Download Audio: "NPR Reports on DePauw Research" - 349kb] "Psychologist Matt Hertenstein from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, decided to study touch while he was watching parents interacting with their babies -- making faces and cooing sounds, squeezing, stroking, nuzzling them," begins a National Public Radio's report by Michelle Trudeau, which aired on today's edition of Day to Day. "And all of a sudden it struck me one day, and I thought, you know, I wonder if touch can communicate distinct emotions, much like the face and the voice," Hertenstein, assistant professor of psychology at DePauw, tells the program.

Trudeau notes, "Decades of research has been done on the face and the voice and the distinct emotions that they communicate. But touch had been relatively neglected by holding_hands_touch 1.gifresearchers until Hertenstein stepped in and began his experiments."

In the four minute story, Dr. Hertenstein discusses how he and his students conducted their research. Audio Link [Download Audio: "A Surprising Finding" - 485kb] "Lo and behold, and honestly to our surprise, six out of the twelve emotions that we studied were accurately communicated to the receiver."

Trudeau points out, "Before this study, there was only evidence that touch could communicate the general gist of whether an emotion was positive or negative, what researchers call the veilance of the emotion -- like warmth and intimacy versus pain and discomfort. But this study shows, for the first time, that touch can successfully, reliably communicate several distinct emotions."  The professor reports that "anger, fear disgust, love, gratitude and sympathy were accurately communicated at far above chance levels."

Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, calls Hertenstein's research "seminal" and "very exciting" in the report.

Hear the segment in its entirety at NPR's Web site.

On October 10 in the UK's Independent, Roger Dobson wrote, "At DePauw University in Indiana, Dr. Matthew Hertenstein... has discovered that touch communicates emotions. When people were touched by a stranger they could not see, who had been instructed to try to communicate a particular emotion, they were able to tell the emotional state of the other person with great accuracy." Read more in this previous story.

Visit Professor Hertenstein's Emotion Lab at DePauw by clicking here.

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