Haptics and Emotion: How Touch Communicates Feelings

Ajay Karpur at Somatic Labs:

ScreenHunter_1811 Mar. 26 18.53When we think about the content of a conversation, it’s easy to focus on just the verbal information exchanged through spoken words; however, there are many other factors that color our interpretation of conversations and, in turn, the information they communicate. One such consideration is the context provided by prosody—the intonation, stress, tempo, rhythm, and pauses in a person’s speech, all of which lend their voice a unique texture. The brain also employs detailed mappings that link different kinds of facial expressions and gestures with the emotions and nuances that they convey. In fact, up to 65% of the raw information in a conversation is exchanged nonverbally [1]. As we continue to investigate human communication, we uncover a highly complex, multi-modal system that comprises many of our senses—including our sense of touch.

Though modern messaging systems are efficient in transmitting visual information, they provide a limited channel for expressing emotions and fail to capture the nuances of face-to-face conversations. To express emotion, people often resort to using emoticons, emoji, or shorthand abbreviations (such as the ubiquitous ‘lol’). While grinning face, smiling face with open mouth, and face with tears of joy all convey different “happy” emotions, none of these pictographs can convey what it feels like to see a subtle smile creep across someone’s face and cascade into a joyous laugh.

More here.