A 2006 study by Matthew Hertenstein demonstrated that strangers could accurately communicate the ‘universal’ emotions of anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy, purely through touches to the forearm, but not the ‘prosocial’ emotions of surprise, happiness and sadness, nor the ‘self-focused’ emotions of embarrassment, envy and pride. Now Erin Thompson and James Hampton have added to this nascent literature by comparing the accuracy of touch-based emotional communication between strangers and between those who are romantically involved.
Yes, the romantic couples did communicate better, especially self-focused feelings. But how isn’t obvious. When looking at the tapes, researchers didn’t see them appear to do anything differently. Perhaps it’s the subtle clues that we can pick up from our partners almost instantly, like thoughts.