Monday, August 18, 2008

Touch increases generosity - Not so in Asia I think

Touch me and I'll like you more...IF I was American. Touch me and I'll tell all my friends you're a pervert...BECAUSE I'm Asian.

Apparently a new study done by Vera Morhenn of the University of California, San Diego, shows that touching a person in the US could earn you more trust and magnanimity. The Economist reporting on the study says:

"the level of hormone appears to rise in people who are trusted. And more of it seems to inspire greater generosity towards strangers...the hormone rose in those who were massaged [in the experiment] and fell slightly in those who were not...[and] women appear more susceptible than men to tactile manipulation."

No surprise with the gender difference here, but I'm curious to know if that study was done here in Asia, would the results be the same?

I remember having this discussion with my friends before. They are Asians, who have spent a long time living and studying in the US and Europe, and there was unanimous consensus that Asians do have a different concept of the function of touch.

When I left Singapore to do study in Germany, I was first very uncomfortable with the physical contact my European friends were making with me. The hug (and I mean a proper hug, like a proper handshake should be), the hand on the shoulder, or the hand on the arm when having a conversation, all that made me very uncomfortable at first.

But that did make a difference to how fast I warmed up to a person, and how sincere I could gauge a person to be. Over time, that human touch came to be a natural order of my interpersonal interaction.

Now that I'm back in Singapore, it's the complete opposite. I remember how my friends did find it a bit strange that I was kissing and hugging them more when I got back. And I did feel that the level of affection I had shared with my long-time old friends had somehow diminished, perhaps as a result of my extended absence, but also partly because of the lack of touch. The connection wasn't as strong as it was before, for various reasons I admit, but also because I had grown accustom to touch as a measure of affection, trust and affinity.

People say Singapore is a very cold society. I agree. For all the communal values we preach as an Asian society, we are a people quite protective over our personal space, and the accepted proximity rule.

We're not quite as communal as we'd like to be.

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