Stanford University

Virtual interpersonal touch and digital chameleons

Bailenson, J.N., & Yee, N. (2007). Virtual interpersonal touch and digital chameleons. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 31, 225-242.

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We studied the characteristics of hand touch with a mechanical device that approximated a handshake, and we then examined the effect of handshake mimicry on assessment of a partner. Two participants interacted with a force-feedback joystick that recorded each of their hand movements individually. The two participants then greeted one another by feeling the recording of the other person’s movements via the force-feedback device. For each dyad, one of the participants actually received his or her own virtual handshake back under the guise that it was the other person’s virtual handshake. Results demonstrated three significant findings. First, for any given participant, a metric that took into account position, angle, speed, and acceleration of the hand movements correlated highly within individuals across two handshakes. Second, across participants, these metrics demonstrated specific differences by gender. Finally, there was an interaction between gender and mimicry, such that male participants liked people who mimicked their handshakes more than female participants did. We discuss the implications of these findings and relate them to theories of social interaction.

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