Female touch can influence decisions, behavior

Thu May 13, 2010 12:45pm EDT
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By Karina Ioffee

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Just a pat on the back or a reassuring touch on the arm can be a powerful tool to influence behavior, according to new research.

And it could determine whether someone invests in a risky financial venture or decides to play it safe.

"It's a very effective way of suddenly influencing people's behavior without them realizing they are being influenced," said Jonathan Levav, a professor of business and marketing at Columbia University in New York.

"If you're a doctor, or are in sales, this is a form of communication you might want to keep in mind," he added in an interview.

Levav 's findings, which are reported in the journal Psychological Science, are based on a series of experiments involving touch.

In one study 67 men and women were asked to choose between a cash payoff and a risky gamble and then touched on the shoulder and back by male and female researchers.

Levav and his co-author Jennifer Argo, of the University of Alberta in Canada, found that both sexes were more likely to select gambles with no guarantees of a payoff if they had been made to feel more comfortable, especially if touched by a woman.

In another experiment, 105 people were asked to allocate their money between two investments -- a bond that delivered a four percent yearly return or a risky deal with no guaranteed return.   Continued...

<p>A married Hindu married woman wears gold bangles at a jewelry shop in the northern Indian city of Allahabad September 1, 2008. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash</p>