I always knew we women had the magic touch. Turns out that now science can prove it.
As babies, we're touched a lot by our mothers, and we actually take a lot of risks. When we took our first steps, tasted new things or explored unknown places, our mothers were there to hold our hands, pick us up and dust us off. They made us feel safer and therefore more likely to keep exploring.
Two researchers at Columbia University were curious whether the comforted, secure feelings we have as babies would transfer to adults when they were faced with making a risky choice.
They designed an experiment where participants were greeted by either a female or male experimenter and then tested to see if they would take financial risks, such as investing money or gambling. It turns out that the type of touch mattered as much as who was giving it.
When a female experimenter touched a participant on the back of the shoulder, that person was much more likely to risk money. If she shook their hands or just spoke to them, however, there was no effect. At the end of the experiment, participants filled out surveys that asked how secure they felt. Those who were touched by the woman, especially if it was on the back, said they felt safer and took bigger risks than those who weren't. But those who were touched by the man didn't show any extra feelings of security.
"We suggest that 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," the researchers explained in their paper published online in Psychological Science. "Our findings suggest that minimal physical contact can exert a strong influence on decision making and risk preferences of adults, possibly also outside the financial domain."
The implications for this type of work are many. Casinos could pay women to walk around touching gamblers on the shoulder, a subliminal encouragement to bet (and lose) large. Investment banks whose numbers are lagging could do the same for their brokers, though the financial wizards of this country may have done enough risk-taking for one lifetime already.
Do feelings of security always lead to risky behavior? A woman's kind touch might help calm the nerves of an anxious surgeon during a long procedure, or help a professional quarterback focus on the big game.
Chances are, this type of unconscious therapy is already woven into our every day lives, something we rely on to help us get through the many risks and decisions we face every day.
Image from Flickr.