Social touch experience in different contexts: A review

Aino Saarinen*, Ville Harjunen, Inga Jasinskaja-Lahti, Iiro P. Jääskeläinen, Niklas Ravaja

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
47 Downloads (Pure)


Social touch is increasingly utilized in a variety of psychological interventions, ranging from parent-child interventions to psychotherapeutic treatments. Less attention has been paid, however, to findings that exposure to social touch may not necessarily evoke positive or pleasant responses. Social touch can convey different emotions from love and gratitude to harassment and envy, and persons’ preferences to touch and be touched do not necessarily match with each other. This review of altogether 99 original studies focuses on how contextual factors modify target person's behavioral and brain responses to social touch. The review shows that experience of social touch is strongly modified by a variety of toucher-related and situational factors: for example, toucher's facial expressions, physical attractiveness, relationship status, group membership, and touched person's psychological distress. At the neural level, contextual factors modify processing of social touch from early perceptual processing to reflective cognitive evaluation. Based on the review, we present implications for using social touch in behavioral and neuroscientific research designs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)360-372
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
MoE publication typeA2 Review article in a scientific journal


  • Affective touch
  • Context
  • CT touch
  • Interpersonal touch
  • Intervention
  • Skin-to-skin contact
  • Touch exposure


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