An Explorative Study Examining the Function of Physical Touch in the Lives of Young Adults Before and After the Covid-19 Pandemic

Abstract

Interaction and connection through physical touch is fundamental to the human experience. It is so elemental, in fact, that human beings often go through their daily lives without consciously thinking about touch and the critical role it plays in their lives. As the Covid-19 pandemic became increasingly more threatening, the existence of physical touch and how it functions in daily life began to enter conscious thought. Suddenly people were instructed to always stand six feet apart from one another, greetings went from handshakes and hugs to distanced waves, and many people were forced to self-isolate for indefinite amounts of time. This study first explored the ways young adults chose to articulate their feelings surrounding and experiences with physical touch given the limited conversation typically had on such topics. After gaining a deeper understanding of how the participants felt about physical touch prepandemic, the effects of the coronavirus on relationships to and conceptions of physical touch were examined. Each group interview was transcribed and analyzed using Grounded Theory, and salient themes arose from said analysis providing an explorative foundation for future research. The major findings from this study indicate that participants felt a general uncertainty when discussing physical touch, implying a lack of self-knowledge and discomfort with the topic. Physical touch was discussed as a form of nonverbal communication used most often to express emotion, and the effect of gender on experience was extremely high, especially regarding sexual touch. The main effect of the Covid-19 pandemic was an increase in awareness of the following: personal affinity for touch, the importance of touch in communicating and connecting with others, and the function of touch interacting with various cultural scripts and social roles. 

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Julia Leet
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Julia Leet is a recent graduate of Kalamazoo College and majored in Psychology and Spanish. Her academic research focuses on relational and communication aspects social and personality psychology. She plans to pursue these interests in graduate research and beyond. Outside of academia, Julia helps lead the Ultimate Frisbee team and all women’s a cappella group on campus.

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