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Psychology Today Spotlights Research of Prof. Matt Hertenstein

March 7, 2013

"Probing our ability to communicate nonverbally is hardly a new psychological tack," notes a story in the March/April 2013 edition of Psychology Today, adding that "researchers have long documented the complex emotions and desires that our posture, motions, and expressions reveal. Yet until recently, the idea that people can impart and interpret emotional content via another nonverbal modality -- touch -- seemed iffy, even to researchers, such as DePauw University psychologist Matthew Hertenstein, who study it."

Rick Chillot writes, "In 2009, he demonstrated that we have an innate ability to decode emotions via touch alone. In a series of studies, Hertenstein had volunteers attempt to communicate a list of emotions to a blindfolded stranger solely through touch ... The results suggest that for all our caution about touching, we come equipped with an ability to send and receive emotional signals solely by doing so. Participants communicated eight distinct emotions -- anger, fear, disgust, love, D2X 6844gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness -- with accuracy rates as high as 78 percent."

The piece, titled "Louder Than Words," adds, "Scientists used to believe touching was simply a means of enhancing messages signaled through speech or body language, 'but it seems instead that touch is a much more nuanced, sophisticated, and precise way to communicate emotions,' Hertenstein says."

The current issue of Psychology Today is on newsstands now.

Matthew J. Hertenstein is an associate professor of psychology at DePauw. His research on communicating through touch has received media attention in the past, including a September 20, 2010 NPR piece and an interview by ABC's Diane Sawyer, as well as an article in the New York Times. He is the co-editor of The Handbook of Touch: Neuroscience, Behavioral, and Health Perspectives, published by Springer.DSC3956b

Research by Dr. Hertenstein and his students on smiling in yearbook photos and whether subjects became divorced later in life received worldwide attention in the spring of 2009. The findings were initially published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. Coverage began in British media outlets, and spread to United Press International, Yahoo! and a piece which aired April 16, 2009 on NBC's Today. The research was included in the New York Times Magazine's "Ninth Annual Year in Ideas" and was cited by India Today, New Scientist and British Columbia's Province.

Visit Professor Hertenstein's Touch and Emotion Lab online by clicking here.

Source: Psychology Today

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