The Magic Touch

Photo Credit: David Eugene
Photo Credit: David Eugene

Here’s a short tidbit gleamed at the conference I attended a few weeks ago (has it been that long? Really?). One of the posters presented at the conference showed evidence that when you touch a child gently on the back while asking her to do something, that child is much more likely to comply with the request.

What the authors did was run a task that is similar to the Marshmallow task in that the child has to wait and refrain from eating a small reward in order to get a big reward later. The study was very well done: children were randomly assign to either touch or no-touch condition; all children completed a cognitive control task before they saw the delay of gratification task (and there were no differences in cognitive control between the groups); and from our conversation with the researcher who presented the poster, it sounds like even in the no-touch condition she was careful to ensure the children were paying attention to her (so it’s not just that the touch increased attention to the researcher’s words, it’s very possibly something about the touch itself).

Because this was a poster, there aren’t enough details to evaluate the methodology in a rigorous way (what I try to do here most of the weeks), but I for one am looking forward for these researchers to publish their findings because I think it’s fascinating. On the practical side, I’m so going to try this with my son next time I want him to do something! 🙂

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