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Journal Article

Vicarious social touch biases gazing at faces and facial emotions


Schirmer,  Annett
Department of Psychology, Chinese University of Hong Kong, China;
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Schirmer, A., Ng, T., & Ebstein, R. P. (2018). Vicarious social touch biases gazing at faces and facial emotions. Emotion, 18(8), 1097-1105. doi:10.1037/emo0000393.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-B9DC-5
Research has suggested that interpersonal touch promotes social processing and other-concern, and that women may respond to it more sensitively than men. In this study, we asked whether this phenomenon would extend to third-party observers who experience touch vicariously. In an eye-tracking experiment, participants (N = 64, 32 men and 32 women) viewed prime and target images with the intention of remembering them. Primes comprised line drawings of dyadic interactions with and without touch. Targets comprised two faces shown side-by-side, with one being neutral and the other being happy or sad. Analysis of prime fixations revealed that faces in touch interactions attracted longer gazing than faces in no-touch interactions. In addition, touch enhanced gazing at the area of touch in women but not men. Analysis of target fixations revealed that touch priming increased looking at both faces immediately after target onset, and subsequently, at the emotional face in the pair. Sex differences in target processing were nonsignificant. Together, the present results imply that vicarious touch biases visual attention to faces and promotes emotion sensitivity. In addition, they suggest that, compared with men, women are more aware of tactile exchanges in their environment. As such, vicarious touch appears to share important qualities with actual physical touch.