Research in Psychology and Behavioral Sciences
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Research in Psychology and Behavioral Sciences. 2018, 6(1), 27-34
DOI: 10.12691/rpbs-6-1-4
Open AccessArticle

Interpersonal Touch Buffers Pain Sensitivity in Romantic Relationships but Heightens Sensitivity between Strangers and Friends

Kory Floyd1, , Colter D. Ray2, Lisa J. van Raalte3, James B. Stein4 and Mark Alan Generous5

1Department of Communication, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA

2School of Communication, San Diego State University, San Diego, USA

3Department of Communication Studies, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, USA

4Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, Arizona State University, Tempe, USA

5Department of Communication Studies, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, USA

Pub. Date: July 09, 2018

Cite this paper:
Kory Floyd, Colter D. Ray, Lisa J. van Raalte, James B. Stein and Mark Alan Generous. Interpersonal Touch Buffers Pain Sensitivity in Romantic Relationships but Heightens Sensitivity between Strangers and Friends. Research in Psychology and Behavioral Sciences. 2018; 6(1):27-34. doi: 10.12691/rpbs-6-1-4


A variety of evidence suggests that interpersonal behaviors such as touch can have pain-alleviating effects on recipients. Less well understood is how touch affects sensitivity to pain in the first place, and whether its effects depend on the nature of the relationship in which it occurs. In the present experiment, 55 adults who had not been diagnosed with a pain disorder were exposed to a cold pressor pain induction with an opposite-sex stranger, platonic friend, or romantic partner who either touched their shoulders, was present in the room without touching them, or was absent during the cold pressor. The outcome variable was the self-reported level of pain induced by the stimulus at the moment when the stimulus became painful (i.e., pain sensitivity). Compared to presence or absence, touch dampened pain sensitivity for romantic partners, allowing them to tolerate more intensity before the stimulus became painful. Touch had the opposite effect for friends and strangers, heightening their sensitivity to pain.

touch pain cold pressor sensitivity

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