May 13, 2010 / 4:33 PM / 8 years ago

Female touch can influence decisions, behavior

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.

<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>

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.

Again, people who were lightly touched on the shoulder by a woman were more likely to select the option with the most risk.

Levav and Argo suggested that the connection between comfort and risk goes back to our earliest recollections of human bonding.

“A simple pat on the back of the shoulder by a female in a way that connotes support may evoke feelings that are similar to the sense of security afforded by a mother’s comforting touch in infancy,” they wrote in the study.

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