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An Observational Study to Investigate Gender Differences in Touching Behaviour in a Social Situation

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An Observational study to investigate gender differences in touching behaviour in a social situation
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Abstract
The aim of this study was to conduct an investigative observational study into gender differences in touch behavior in a social situation. A study by Henley (1973) concluded existence of gender asymmetry – a tendency for men to be significantly more likely to touch women than vice versa. The investigation was conducted within a shopping precinct in Washington Metropolis, following a naturalistic observational methodology. It uses independent design and random sampling of 10 young couples of opposite sex aged between 13 and 19 years. The study excludes same sex couples so as to enable testing of the hypothesis: tendency of adolescent males to touch adolescent girls in public is greater than the reverse.
Findings reveal greater overall touch tendency for adolescent males to touch females than vice versa; a tendency for adolescent males to initiate touch than females. It also shows a tendency for greater adolescent female same-gender compared to adolescent male same-gender touch. The study results also show greater tendency for adolescent fema.les to react more positively to touch relative to their male counterparts. The findings support the hypothesis and Henley’s (1973) touching behavior model. Thus, the alternative hypothesis is accepted while the null hypothesis is rejected.

Introduction
‘Touch’ is a basic behavioral element of non-verbal communication (NVC) among humans, and it can either be subtle or powerful, and overly complex are relates individual’s beliefs about its meaning and frequency (Lerner & Steinberg, 2004). Touch behavior patterns are largely influenced by the social context in which they happen as well the unspoken cultural rules that dictate who can touch whom and when. NVC refers to the behavior of sending wordless communicatory expressive signals, which can be displayed through any or all of the five senses: touch, smell, taste, sound, and sight. As such, NVC depicts the ‘Self’ through touch, facial expression, gesture, posture, and ‘paralanguage’ (Knapp et al 2007). Paralanguage is a type of non-verbal communication, which can be communicated consciously or unconsciously, and plays a significant part in depicting to others how an individual feels at given time.
Non-verbal communication is very important in light of the numerous different languages of people around the world. It facilitates communication between people unable to speak a foreign language through hand gestures, facial expression and other improvised techniques (Allace & Spence, 2010). NVC is a biological phenomenon, in which signals are sent to the cortex via the neurotransmitters to trigger the brain into relaying the intended message to the muscles for impulse reaction at various parts of the body. Specific cultural communication can be understood by foreigners if they are accompanied by such NVC as facial expressions or hand signals, enabling appropriate response though it depends on the nature and complexity of the cultural expression of NVC and the manner in which others decipher its meaning (Knapp et al 2007). The ‘Nature Theory’ and ‘Nurture Theory’ are applied to explain Non-Verbal Communication: biological (human psyche/animal instinct) and learnt/modeled behaviorism respectively.
The NVC aspect of Touch has strong correlation to ‘Proxemics’ (space and distance) as designed and explained by Hall (1950) as the ‘perception and use of space’ (Guerrero & Floyd, 2006). According to Guerrero & Floyd (2006), touch (haptics) as element of NVC can be divided into four major subcategories: social; public; intimate; and personal – which vary depending on cultural and national behaviors. Other significant studies on the subject of ‘Haptics’ and ‘Proxemics’ include Burgoon et. al and Remland (1982). Much empirical research has established that touch in humans plays significant roles in emotional communication, bonding, attachment, power, compliance, intimacy, liking, and hedonics (Lerner & Steinberg, 2004).
The above psychological literatures are subject to interpretation relating to the validity of results obtained through a purely naturalistic observation research technique. This method has the limitation of not factoring in any specific variables (Hertenstein et al 2007). In addition, these studies purely focus on who, when or where an individual touches first while excluding variables of the reason for initiating the touch. Also, the comments of the researchers pertaining to male dominance and related attributes are largely speculative influenced by their subconscious stereotyping. Psychological studies using the observational research method also present ethical dilemmas and risk of being frowned upon by the research community especially where participant prior consent is mandatory (Allace & Spence, 2010).
This practical report explores a common behavior of non-verbal communication (NVC) – an observational study investigating gender differences in touching behavior in a social situation. The sample consisted of young people of latter adolescent stage, being opposite sex couples. In his touching behavior model, Henley (1973) found greater tendency for males to touch females than vice versa in public places. Touching behavior can either be platonic or sexual, and is a integral part of human as well as animal communication. In addition, much literature has concluded that touch behavior differs depending on such factors as age, gender, cultural and religious backgrounds, as well as the social society in which individuals live in (Knapp et al 2007). This investigative observational study is conducted within a shopping precinct, and employs a naturalistic observational method of design using independent subjects.
Aim of the study
The aim of this study is to conduct an investigative observational study into gender differences in touch behavior in a social situation. The observational study will thus investigate the tendency of touch behavior in a public space among adolescent couples of opposite sex. The study aims to compare its results with related theories and hypothesis as developed and explained by Henley (1977).
Hypothesis
Experimental or alternative hypothesis
Adolescent males significantly touch their female partners in a public place. This is a one tailed test.
Null hypothesis
Adolescent males do not significantly touch their female partners in a public place.

Method
Design
This practical is a naturalistic observational study of adolescent couples within a shopping precinct to investigate the gender differences in touch behavior. The study uses a non participant to observe adolescent couples randomly selected. An independent subjects design is used in observing the different couples.
Participants
The sample includes a total of 40 adolescent opposite sex couples i.e. forty males and forty females. The participants are in the latter adolescent age bracket i.e. approximately between 17-20 years. The observations are carried out at high traffic shopping precinct in downtown Washington. Considering that the observational study was carried out in a semi-public place i.e. in a shopping precinct with a private owner, permission was initially sought to undertake the research. The study opted not to seek informed consent at the shopping precinct for methodological reasons i.e. the danger for participants modifying their touch behavior in public if aware they are being observed (Allace & Spence, 2010).
Apparatus
The study used an event table or raw data chart to take note of the specific body parts touched by the opposite sex pairs under investigation. This helped in testing the hypotheses. The couples were observed for a short amount of time – at least five minutes per couple. Figure 1 below shows the Raw data chart indicating the number of times that a body part was touched in the opposite sex pair interactions.

Procedure
The investigative observational study was conducted within a shopping precinct in downtown Washington D.C., during a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon between 12p.m. and 14p.m. Four non participant observers naturalistically observed a total of forty opposite sex adolescent couples for 5 minutes while entering and existing a high traffic fashion store stocking apparels for the younger generation. The location was precise for finding sufficient adolescent subject for the study. This selection of this selection was informed by prior evaluation of the area that indicated there was no change in opposite sex couples’ touch behavior unless there was break in their normal behavior. It is was expected that introduction of a shop entrance would precipitate a change in touching behavior, providing the observers with opportunities the pattern of such behavior. The observers precisely noted the body part touched on the specific column of the participants on the raw data chart. This would later be evaluated against the expected touch behavior. The couples were not aware that they were being observed thus their touch behaviors in public were noted while they acted naturally. The collected data was analyzed using nominal statistical analysis, following a one tailed design having a significance value of <0.05. The data was represented graphically using a pie chart as indicated below:
Key:
Green – Adolescent females touch hands, arms, and shoulders
Blue – Adolescent males touch back & upper leg
Red – Adolescent males touch back & upper leg
Inferential statistics
Given that the data collected was basically put into categories, the data was nominal data, and thus nominal data together with chi-squared test were used in analyzing the results. Chi-Square test of independence was used because the study’s null hypothesis presumed that the two categorical variables were independent or equivalent resulting in even distribution of either variable at each level of other variable. The chi-square also fitted the assumption of the alternative hypothesis that the two variables were not independent or equivalent for the distribution of a single variable dependent on the level of the other (Guerrero & Floyd, 2006). The RxC (row x column) method was employed for the independent design. Figure 2 below represents the contingency table for the results of the study:

Figure 2: Contingency Table showing touch behaviors of participants | Head/face | Shoulders | Hands | Arms | Back | Chest | knees | Upper leg | Lower leg | Row totals | Males | 5 | 21 | 31 | 4 | 33 | 3 | 20 | 12 | 8 | 148 | Females | 11 | 7 | 9 | 18 | 6 | 30 | 17 | 23 | 29 | 166 | Column totals | 16 | 28 | 40 | 22 | 39 | 33 | 37 | 35 | 37 | 314 |

Findings and Discussion
Within the investigative observational study, adolescent males shown significantly greater tendency to touch their female partners in within the shopping precinct. The results showed a significance ration of 70% males touching females compared to 30% females touching males in the public setting. The analysis of the findings found 1df (degree of freedom at 1% level, with the calculated chi-squared valued of 7.347, being above the required figure of 1% level of significance 6.635.
The findings attested that there is significant difference in touch behaviors between genders while in public places. Males were found to significantly touch their female partners more in the public area compared to female initiatives to touch the males. The percentage of male initiative for touch was 70%, where the highest instances of touch recorded was by the adolescent males initiating hand touch. This behavior of touch is most prevalent among adolescent males as it is conceived as a display of intimacy and ownership or domination. Females’ highest level of touching was 30%, this being mostly touching of arms and back of the male. While this is done for the purpose of portraying affection or offering help, it is considered less affectionate relative the purely intimate as hands touching. The results of the female touch initiation represented in the pie chart show that female touch of their male counterparts while in public is significantly less compared to male touch initiative. Thus, the alternate hypothesis is accepted while the null hypothesis is rejected.
The research has a number of limitations, which could inform improvement of the methodology and statistical analysis. First, the study lacked a pre-evaluation of race, social class, and representation of the population at the location. Second, the age brackets of the subjects were assumed by the researchers because the consent and clarification of the participants was not sought before hand out of fear of compromising their touch behavior patterns.
Also, making out the correct meaning of the touch among the different couple through observation is problematic because meaning varies from individual to individual depending on cultural, racial, religious, and social backgrounds (Hertenstein et al 2007). To some, touch by a male could mean ownership of the female, may imply affection or reassurance. On other hand, non-reciprocal touch could denote power in relationship where the person initiating the touch could be conceived as the dominant partner relative to the recipient of the touch (Guerrero & Floyd, 2006). It is also questionable whether the findings of the study are representational of the population or if they can be generalized to the larger real world considering that it was conducted at a single limited small part within the city centre.
The methodology and statistical analysis can be improved by borrowing the methodology adopted by Remland et. al (1991) in conducting an observational study on ‘haptics’ and ‘proxemics’ within several European countries (e.g. Holland, England, and France). In this study, the researchers used observed the impact of ‘proxemics’ and ‘haptics’ on race, gender, and age differences using hidden video cameras (Jansen et al 2003). Adopting this technique could be a potential improvement to data collection for the investigative observational research, in addition to covering a wider area of study. Furthermore, given the current limited literature on gender differences in touching behavior in a social situation particularly from Asian, African and Middle East countries, there are limited global comparisons for findings of the present research.
The present observational report is also compromised by ethical dilemmas. In the interest of methodological report and need to obtain most natural results about adolescent couples touch behavior in a social situation, the researchers considered it best to not seek informed consent from the subjects under observation. This poses potential ethical dilemma in terms of invasion of privacy. In addition, there is greater risk that the findings of this research acquired through un-consented observation method could be disapproved by the research institutions if the study is deemed as unprofessional (Jansen et al 2003).
Conclusion
In the investigative observational study into the gender differences in touching behavior in a social situation, it was concluded that male adolescents significantly touch female partners more than the reverse while in public place. This is reflected by the 70% ratio in the pie chart for adolescent males relative to 30% exhibited by females. The findings are consisted with previous works of theorists such as Henley (1997) and Hall & Veccia (1991).
Notwithstanding the several limitations of the study, it must be stated that findings of this study cannot be dismissed for those reasons. This is due to the fact that researchers are more likely to get a relatively greater sense of human behavior using the naturalistic method of observation. Many psychological researches have attested that significantly reliable data can be achieved by studying animals and humans when they are behaving naturally in their natural environment through non-informed observational method. In this regard, observational method stands out as an invaluable tool allows the researchers to have an a realistic inside view of human behavioral activity, and especially in the social context. This study has contributed to the existing evidence that ‘touch’ is an integral part of non-verbal communication (NVC); and that in public places males are more likely to touch females than vice versa.

Bibliography
Allace, A., & Spence, C. (2010). The science of interpersonal touch: An overview. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 246-259.
Guerrero, L. K., & Floyd, K. (2006). Nonverbal communication in close relationships. Mahwah, NJ [u.a.], Erlbaum Assoc.
Hertenstein, M, Verkamp, M. J., Kerestes, M. A., & Holmes, M. R., 2007, The Communicative Functions of Touch in Humans, Nonhuman Primates, and Rats: A Review and Synthesis of Empirical Research. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, 2006, 132(1), 5-94.
Jansen, G. R., Wiertz, F. L., Meyer, S. E., & Noldus, J.J.L, 2003, Reliability analysis of observational data: Problems, Solutions, and software implementation. Behavior Research Methods, Instrument, & Computers 35(3), 391-399.
Knapp, Mark L., & Hall, Judith A. (2007) Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction. (5th ed.) Wadsworth: Thomas Learning
Lerner, R. M., & Steinberg, L. D. (2004). Handbook of adolescent psychology. Hoboken, N.J., John Wiley & Sons.

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