Physiological Linkage and Communication of Emotion via Touch

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Previous research has demonstrated that communication of emotion via touch is possible and occurs well-above chance levels, though the potential mechanism whereby this occurs has yet to be determined. The current study aimed to determine if physiological linkage, or the synchrony between various physiological signals between two interaction partners, played a role in successful communication of emotion via touch. Dynamic linear times series analysis was used to determine the strength and length of synchrony between the inter-beat intervals of fifty-two stranger female-female dyads (n=104, mean age=19.88) during two rounds of an emotion communication task in which they communicated a randomized list emotions to each other via forearm touch alone without being able to see their interaction partner. Results showed the highest magnitude linkage coefficients and the greatest number of consecutive lagged linked seconds during the “touch alone” communication—demonstrating that touch increases physiological linkage. Stronger and longer physiological linkage across tasks predicted emotion word, valence, intensity, and quadrant (from the circumplex model) detection accuracy. Participants serving as the initial communicator in the first round of emotion communication tended to have a greater influence on the physiology of initial receivers. Overall, greater physiological linkage as the result of touch predicted successful communication of emotion via touch and is therefore likely a portion of the mechanism underlying this phenomenon.



Physiological linkage, dynamic time series modeling, touch, dyadic interaction, emotion communication