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Techniques > Use of body language > Core patterns > Touching

Pattern | Found in | Discussion | See also



Touching is a very common pattern in body language. Touching the face in particular is often very significant, including:

  • Touching the cheek in surprise or horror 'Oh goodness!'
  • Stroking the chin whilst thinking.
  • Covering or touching the mouth to silently say 'I don't know what to say!' or 'I don't want to speak'.
  •  Finger to the lips to say the same thing or also 'Shh!'
  • Tapping the teeth in boredom or irritation.
  • Fingering the nose, when thinking.
  • Scratching the nose when lying.
  • Rubbing the nose in disagreement or discomfort.
  • Pinching the bridge of the nose in negative evaluation.
  • Tapping the nose to indicate 'this is a secret'.
  • Rubbing the eyes to say 'I don't want to see' or 'I want to be elsewhere' or otherwise as an indicator of discomfort.
  • Putting a palm to the forehead to say 'Phew, that was close' or 'Oh no, that's terrible!'
  • Tapping the forehead with the palm or heel of the hand to say 'Oh I'm so stupid!'
  • Touching the forehead in salute.
  • Stroking the hair when flirting with others.

Touching other parts of the body can also be notable, including:

  • Touching arms or hands or other part of the body in self-comfort.
  • Clasping or touching fingers in an evaluative gesture.
  • Caressing bottom, hips, legs, thigh, knees or other area to say 'I'd like you to do this to me...'
  • Rubbing the neck in discomfort.
  • Rubbing the chest or belly which may be tense.

You can also touch the other person in friendship or with romantic intent. Touching others may also be a power play.

Found in

Lots of places, including:


Touching oneself is often a sign of uncertainty or discomfort. It is as if the person is reassuring themselves, using their own hands in place of the hands of a non-present parent or friend.

Touching can similarly be an affirmation of the identity. 'I can feel myself, therefore I exist!'

When a person is stressed their muscles become tense and they may sweat and itch. They may thus rub the areas affected. Lying is often a stressful activity and thus rubbing can be an indicator. It can also mean the person is worried about something else or is just hot.

Covering such as the mouth, nose, eyes and ears often means 'I do not want to use these' and indicates the person would rather be elsewhere or they are holding themselves back from potentially harmful action.

Touching a friend affirms their identity and forms a physical bond. Holding them close emphasizes this. 

Touching other people with whom you are not comfortably familiar can be a sign of power ('I can break social rules and you can't do anything about it!').

Touching varies greatly across cultures, for example in parts of South-East Asia, the head (particularly of others) is considered to contain the spirit and hence must not be touched. Touching in greeting rituals also varies hugely across cultures.

See also

Using Touch, Defensive body language, Dominant body language, Evaluating body language, Romantic body language, The Need for Touch,

Touch Them (Tipping), The Need to Sense, Haptic communication, Using Touch



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