It matters who touches you when you make decisions

Even though a touch makes people more generous, this works mainly if the transaction occurs between strangers, a new study suggests.

At the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT, researchers from Aalto University and the University of Helsinki conducted a joint study to investigate whether receiving a remote touch, such as a vibration from a mobile phone, has any affect on generosity.

They found that the willingness to accept offers is not greatly affected by receiving a touch, compared to a simple tone. However, some people were later on more generous when given the chance to make offers themselves. Only in financial transactions between strangers was any positive correlation between touch and generosity observed.

The study challenges previous research from the 1980s that showed that waiters who touched a customer often received larger tips.

- We did notice that more ungenerous offers were accepted after mediated touch, but the effect was small and indistinguishable from hearing a tone, said Dr Michiel Spapé of Aalto University.

The results show that touch alone does not translate into more generosity and it is, in fact, rather more complicated than that.

- We found that the degree to which a touch has a golden effect depends on how people interpret that touch, added Spapé. Indeed, on closer investigation of the prior relationship between proposers and responders, we ascertained that effects of touch were only positive between strangers. Indeed, a touch between friends followed by an unfair offer could actually make things worse.

 

Using EEG to measure economic decision-making

 

In order to come to these conclusions the researchers had participants playing an economic decision-making game while their brainwaves were measured using electroencephalography (EEG). In the game of Ultimatum, a gift of money is proposed by one person as a share between him/herself and the other, known as the responder. The responder may then agree – and each person gets their share, or disagree - and neither person gets anything. Commonly, it is found that if the proposer makes an unfair offer, a responder will sometimes decline, even though he or she does not gain anything from this.

The difference in this game, however, was that proposers were allowed to combine their offers with a chance of communicating a touch (transmitted remotely via vibrating devices) or a simple tone (via a speaker). However, the participants did not know was that the communication fake: the offers, the extra stimulation and the acceptance were all randomized.

According to common folklore the mythological King Midas was granted the gift of turning everything he touched into gold. From this legend originates the expression of the ‘Midas touch,’ which is often applied to people who have the ability to make a financial success of everything they do.

- From the results of this study we could say that perhaps the legend of the Midas touch isn’t so shiny after all, said Spapé.

Spapé, M. M., Hoggan, E. I., Jacucci, G., & Ravaja, N. (2014). The meaning of the virtual Midas touch: An ERP study in economic decision making. Psychophysiology, in press.

doi:10.1111/psyp.12361

This  is a joint study conducted by Dr. Michiel Sovijärvi-Spapé (née Spapé) of the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology (HIIT), in collaboration with Dr. Eve Hoggan of the Aalto Science Institute, Professor Giulio Jacucci of the University of Helsinki, Department of Computer Science and Professor Niklas Ravaja of Aalto University School of Business and the University of Helsinki, Department of Social Research. 

You can read more about it here:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/psyp.12361/full

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