Results revealed for The Touch Test: the world’s largest study of touch

Positive attitudes towards touch are linked with greater wellbeing and lower levels of loneliness, according to a huge new global study from BBC Radio 4’s ‘All In the Mind’ and Wellcome Collection, which investigated public attitudes and experiences of touch.

The Touch Test, which primarily took place before the UK was in lockdown, demonstrated that most people view interpersonal touch positively and that nearly half of typical adults felt that society does not enable us to touch enough, even before the Covid-19 pandemic. The study provides one of the most detailed sources of insight that we have on contemporary attitudes towards touch – at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has brought the subject of touch into the heart of everyone’s lives. The Touch Test garnered responses from almost 40,000 people across 112 different countries and ran from 21 January to 30 March 2020.

Summary of results

  • 72% of people reported a positive attitude towards touch
  • 43% of typical adults feel that society does not enable us to touch enough
  • The leading reason people gave for why we did not touch enough was consent
  • 88% of people liked public displays of affection by their partners
  • People who like touch tend to score higher on extraversion, openness to new experiences and agreeableness, especially if it’s touch involving non-family members
  • People who don’t like touch were more likely to be people who find it difficult to form trusting relationships
  • The three most common words used to describe touch were: ‘comforting’, ‘warm’, ‘love’
  • 79% of people liked being touched by a friend and 63% disliked being touched by a stranger
  • 61% of people said a hug from a partner before sleep had a positive effect on their sleep, while only 4% said it had a negative effect

This study had a self-selecting sample where people chose to participate. The online questionnaire was developed by academics in the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, led by Professor Michael Banissy in collaboration with Dr Natalie Bowling from the University of Greenwich. 

The full results were revealed in ‘The Touch Test: The Results’ at 09.00 on Tuesday 6 October on BBC Radio 4, presented by Claudia Hammond. Guests on the programme included Greg James (BBC Radio 1), Jess Thom (Touretteshero), Ophelia Deroy (Professor of Philosophy of the Mind at Munich University) and V (formerly Eve Ensler). This is accompanied by a week of special programming on Radio 4, including the series ‘Anatomy of Touch’ at 13.45 from Monday to Friday, covering topics including touch hunger, touch and culture, technological substitutes for touch, touch and health, and consent, episodes of ‘Inside Health’ and ‘Inside Science’ devoted to the topic of touch, and a poetry programme about poetry’s long relationship with touch, with modern writers discussing what it means to them now.

Claudia Hammond, presenter of Radio 4’s ‘All in the Mind’ and The Touch Test and Visiting Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Sussex says: “The response we had to the study shows what a critical topic touch is in society today and now, with social distancing and the pandemic, touch has taken on a new resonance. These results show that our likes and dislikes around touch are nuanced and vary from person to person. Half of the people who took part in the study feel even before the pandemic today’s society does not provide enough opportunities for interpersonal touch. But it’s clear that not everybody wants more touch. Personal preference is foremost when it comes to touch.”

Professor Michael Banissy from Goldsmiths, University of London says: "It was fantastic to have such a diverse and large group of people take part in The Touch Test – we are really grateful to everyone who completed the study. This is the largest study of its kind and provides the most detailed source of insight that we have on contemporary attitudes and experiences of touch. It indicates the importance of touch in our lives, and shows the crucial role that individual differences play in this. We’re looking forward to sharing and building on the results to further understand the personal and social contexts that influence the impact of touch in our lives.” 

Details of The Touch Test programming on BBC Radio 4

  • The Anatomy of Touch, Mon 5 October – Fri 9 October, 13.45–14.00
  • The Touch Test: The Results, Tues 6 October, 09.00–09.45
  • Inside Health, Tues 6 October, 21.00–21.30
  • Inside Science, Thurs 8 October, 16.30–17.00
  • Every Little Touch, Sun 11 October, 16.30–17.00

To accompany the research, Wellcome Collection has commissioned the arts organisations 20 Stories High in Liverpool, and Revoluton Arts and Sudha Bhuchar in Luton to produce new works as part of Wellcome Collection’s national arts partnerships programme.

Using The Touch Test as a starting point, 20 Stories High will produce ‘Touchy’, a bold new live digital performance piece blending storytelling, poetry and hip-hop, created with six emerging artists in Liverpool. Revoluton Arts has been working with actress, playwright and artistic director of Bhuchar Boulevard Sudha Bhuchar and communities around Bury Park in Luton to explore the role of touch through ‘Touchstone Tales’, a body of fictional monologues and stories that will be presented at a live online event on 15 October.

The Touch Test is the third in a series of studies carried out in partnership with Wellcome Collection and BBC Radio 4. Previous research has focused on loneliness and rest.

Media contacts

For further information about Wellcome Collection please contact Alice Evans, Media Manager on 07909 534076 or email a.evans@wellcome.org.

For further information about BBC Radio 4, All In The Mind and The Touch Test please contact Isobel Pyrke, Publicist at Radio 4 on 07523 928828 or isobel.pyrke@bbc.co.uk.

Notes to editors

BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind explores the limits and potential of the human mind. The Touch Test programmes and all other previous episodes can be found on BBC Sounds.

The Touch Test was commissioned by Wellcome Collection in a collaboration with BBC Radio 4. It was an online study that took approximately 40 minutes to complete and covered topics such as attitudes towards touch, where on the body people like to be touched, personality, relationships, touch and sleep, and touch in healthcare settings.

About Wellcome Collection and Wellcome

Wellcome Collection is a free museum and library exploring health and human experience. Our vision is to challenge how we all think and feel about health by connecting science, medicine, life and art. We offer changing curated exhibitions, museum and library collections, and public events, in addition to a café. Wellcome Collection co-publishes books on what it means to be human, and collaborates widely to reach broad and diverse audiences, locally and globally.

Wellcome Collection actively develops and preserves collections for current and future audiences and, where possible, offers new narratives about health and the human condition. We work to engage underrepresented audiences, including D/deaf, disabled, neurodivergent, and racially minoritised communities.

Wellcome Collection is part of Wellcome, which exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. We support researchers, we take on big health challenges, we campaign for better science, and we help everyone get involved with science and health research. We are a politically and financially independent foundation.