An investigation of simulated and real touch on feelings of loneliness



Gray NLT & Roberts SC (2023) An investigation of simulated and real touch on feelings of loneliness. Scientific Reports, 13 (1), Art. No.: 10587.

As a social species, humans deprived of contact find loneliness a potentially distressing condition. Recent research emphasises the influence of touch on alleviating loneliness. This research found that touch reduces feelings of neglect, a subscale of loneliness. Affectionate touch, which demonstrates care or affection, has been previously linked to well-being in couples. Here, we investigated whether the effect of simulated touch during a video conversation might be sufficient to influence feelings of loneliness. Sixty participants answered a survey about their home life and relationships, including items that assessed the frequency of touch and feelings of loneliness. Following this, they participated in an online video call with three conditions: audio only, audio and video, or audio, video with simulated touch (a virtual ‘high-five’). Finally, immediately after the call, they repeated the loneliness questionnaire. We found that loneliness scores were reduced following the call, but there was no difference among conditions and no effect of a virtual touch. However, we did find a significant association between the frequency of touch in a relationship and the expression of loneliness, with individuals in low-touch relationships having loneliness scores more comparable to single participants than to those in high-touch relationships. Additionally, extraversion played a major role in moderating the effect of touch in relationships. These results emphasise the importance of physical contact in lowering feelings of loneliness within relationships and the ability of calls to lower feelings of loneliness, regardless of whether they include video or simulated touch.


Scientific Reports: Volume 13, Issue 1

Publication date30/06/2023
Publication date online30/06/2023
Date accepted by journal22/06/2023
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media LLC
ISSN of series2332-2675

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Professor Craig Roberts

Professor Craig Roberts

Professor of Social Psychology, Psychology