Exploring touchy attitudes

New Wellcome Collection / BBC Radio 4 survey.

A new survey commissioned by Wellcome Collection to explore people’s attitudes towards the physical experience of touch launches today on BBC Radio 4.

The Touch Test is an online questionnaire developed by researchers in the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. It creates a unique opportunity to understand the similarities and differences in our experiences of touch, with the aim of increasing our understanding of its role in health and wellbeing.

The Touch Test will be launched in a special programme, hosted by All in the Mind presenter Claudia Hammond, starting at 9am today on BBC Radio 4, with the results set to be explored in a new series, The Anatomy of Touch, in the autumn. It’s the latest subject to be explored in the ongoing partnership between Radio 4 and Wellcome Collection, following the studies into attitudes towards rest and loneliness which took place in 2016 and 2018 respectively.

The new study will explore issues such as: 
• How our attitudes towards touch and the nature of our relationships with others vary by age, gender, nationality.
• How the interpersonal touch we experience relates to our health and wellbeing.
• How touch might relate to empathy, loneliness or the size of our social networks.
• Which materials or textures we like or hate to touch.
• When we consider touch from others to be appropriate or inappropriate.
• Attitudes towards touch during a doctor’s consultation or in therapy.
• Whether contemporary society allows us to get enough touch or leaves us wanting more.

The public is invited to take part in the survey and respond to a range of questions linked to these topics. It takes between 15 and 40 minutes to complete depending on choices made, and is available at touchtest.org.

Claudia Hammond, presenter of The Touch Test on BBC Radio 4, says: “Over 70,000 people contributed to our previous studies into rest and loneliness, and I’m hoping for a similarly positive response to this unique exploration of attitudes towards touch. Like rest and loneliness, touch is something that affects us all – and is more complex than you might think. The Touch Test gives people the opportunity to contribute to large-scale, pioneering research into the topic, which can only be done through this kind of collaboration between the BBC and Wellcome. I’m really looking forward to analysing the results of the study in a series of programmes on Radio 4 later this year.”

The survey has been developed by academics at Goldsmiths, University of London, led by Professor Michael Banissy in collaboration with Professor Alice Gregory (Goldsmiths) and Professor Aikaterini Fotopoulou (University College London), and commissioned by Wellcome Collection.

Professor Michael Banissy says: "Touch plays a fundamental role in our development and in our day-to-day experiences. We use touch to share our feelings with others and to strengthen relationships. A simple touch on the arm can change how we perceive and interact with other people. A hug can reduce our stress levels. But there are still many gaps in our understanding of touch in modern society.
“The Touch Test is an exciting opportunity to investigate with a large and diverse group of people. It will generate an exciting new dataset that will enable us to gain new insights into the role of touch today. "

Accompanying the research, Wellcome Collection is developing two art commissions exploring touch and the findings of the survey, with the arts organisations 20 Stories High in Liverpool and Revoluton Arts and Sudha Bhuchar in Luton, as part of Wellcome Collection’s national arts partnerships programme. Ana Botella, Acting Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection, says “This is the third time we have worked with BBC Radio 4 on a nationwide survey, and each time we discover something new about people’s experiences of health and wellbeing in the 21st century. For this opportunity I am looking forward to seeing what this research reveals about touch and to working with our arts partners who will be researching touch and using the findings of the test in their own new and exciting ways.”

Using The Touch Test as a starting point, 20 Stories High will produce Touchy, a gig theatre performance developed with young adults across Liverpool, which will tour the UK in autumn 2020.  Revoluton will work with writer and performer Sudha Bhuchar to explore touch with communities around Bury Park in Luton.

- Find more on touch in our archive.

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