A growing body of evidence from top universities shows people are just as responsive to touch as speech, facial expression and body language. “We’re finding that touch is a sophisticated communication system – and yet we choose not to use it to get what we want,” says Dr Matt Hertenstein, a US-based psychologist. Even in the bedroom.
In a recent study, he decoded an extensive vocabulary of gestures linked to specific emotions. Here, we show you how and when to deploy them for an instant effect on the way your lady thinks and behaves. Paw your way through this tactile fact file to become the playmaker in your relationship.
1. The "Let's Go" Handshake
When: You want to go out but she won’t part with her latest chick-lit novel by Helen Fielding. (She’s the author of Bridget Jones’ Diary, in case you need to know.)
How: Clasp her hand in front of you in a firm grip, give it a light shake and raise your hands up to your chin so she can see them.
Why: The handgrip is the most convincing way to assert happiness, says Dr Hertenstein. It communicates enthusiasm and says you’ll show her a great time. It also releases oxytocin, a hormone in her body that delivers feelings of attachment. “With oxytocin, stress hormones are also decreased,” says Dr Tiffany Field of The Touch Research Institute in the US. This will put her in date mode.
Lifting her hands to eye level is the clincher. Research from the University of Bologna in Italy found that looking at the part of your body being touched increases activity in the somatosensory cortex of the brain, intensifying the effect (unlike chick lit, which shuts it down).
2. The Diffusing Back Rub
When: Her fuse is about to blow.
How: Approach from behind and hug her lightly with one arm. Then step back and use the other hand to rub the middle of her back.
Why: When you’ve accidentally jabbed her temper with a stick, this will send it back to sleep. The combo is interpreted as sympathy, according to Dr Hertenstein’s study, telling her you understand why she’s angry. Studies of human behaviour also point to the benefits of hugging from behind, says Judi James, author of The Body Language Bible.
“Watch footballers calm down a teammate by standing behind him and controlling the player without getting into his area of conflict.” Her body reacts by lowering blood pressure and exciting parts of the brain that normally fire during sex. Not only will she calm down, you’ll also get to practise your other tactile moves upstairs.
3. Get To First Base
When: You want to get her in the mood.
How: Hold her firmly on the small of her back with your fingers.
Why: This is the ideal precursor to a more direct move at bedtime. According to Dr Hertenstein, there’s no better way through touch alone to show your love – and it’s the pressure that counts. “A light or heavy touch doesn’t work. It’s the moderate pressure that
The optimum pressure is described as having “some skin indentation or movement of the decoder’s body”. Targeting the lower back is a display of dominance and increases her heart rate, priming her body for sex. And the effect is more prominent if you’ve not been wielding your razor. Research at Northumbria University in the UK found women see men with stubble as being the most attractive.
4. The Leaning Tower
When: She’s talking about her ex again.
How: Lean gently into her arm, ending the gesture with a little push.
Why: Research from the Touch and Emotion Lab at DePauw University in the US found this move accurately shows disgust, making it the most powerful way to tell her that you’ve heard enough. “The arm is the body part most commonly used to communicate this emotion,” Dr Hertenstein explains.
Follow it up with the best signal for anger – a firm but non-aggressive grip of her bicep. This manoeuvre is also good for cutting her short when she’s ranting about her boss or the shaving foam frothing on the bathroom windowsill again. It reasserts your dominance. But if she’s still going and you need a last resort, keep still and stop responding to anything she says. “Behaviour that’s ignored will diminish, so move as little as possible,” says James.
5. The Death Bed Wrist Grab
When: When the dreaded flu strikes and you need nursing.
How: Hold her wrist firmly, rocking your grip before going limp and dropping your hand.
Why: This activates her inner Florence Nightingale. In Dr Hertenstein’s trials, this was the clearest way to convey fear. In response, her body releases vasopressin, which motivates pair bonding – just what you need to guarantee a constant supply of Panadol. “As you collapse on the sofa with that 24 box set, grab her wrist and look her in the eye as you mutter your thanks,” says James. Eye contact tells her you’re genuine – even if you’re putting on an Oscar-winning performance worthy of Jeff Bridges.
6. The Calming Cuddle
When: She’s stressed – and lashing out.
How: Hold her hand for 10 minutes, then pull her close for a 20-second hug.
Why: Before a stressful event like a job interview, her blood pressure and heart rate will be raised – meaning she’s on edge and you’re tiptoeing through an emotional minefield. This move brings her body’s manic responses down, according to research at the University of North Carolina in the US. Psychologists found blood pressure and heart rate were halved in couples who hugged and held hands.
If you’re dealing with an extra-sensitive situation, trace circular movements on the back of her hand at 4cm to 5cm per second. This activates the pathway responsible for sending sensual or emotional touch signals to the brain. She’ll start to chill out and you can bask in the knowledge that you’re now a one-touch master.