Affectionate Touch and Well-being: the Role of Health Behavior and Coping Behavior




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Friends embrace upon greeting, and couples cuddle on the couch while watching a movie. Affectionate touches like these are commonly experienced throughout the lifespan, and growing empirical evidence suggests receiving affectionate touch in the context of adult, close relationships enhances individuals’ well-being. The two studies in this dissertation tested a conceptual model for how experiences of affectionate touch in close relationships may relate to health behavior and coping behavior as well potential mediating factors (i.e., self-efficacy and self-control as an indication of self-efficacy) and moderating factors of this association (i.e., motivations for using affectionate touch, perceived responsiveness, and the type of relationship). Lastly, these studies tested whether affectionate touch experiences in close relationships act as a moderating factor between perceived stress and health behavior and coping behavior. Study 1 assessed this conceptual model cross-sectionally (N=861 individuals) and examined affectionate touch experiences within romantic relationships, friendships, and in sibling relationships. Study 2 tested this model in a two-week daily diary study of couples (N=116 couples). Across the two studies, it appears that affectionate touch experiences in romantic relationships may be more relevant for coping behavior than for health behavior. In Study 1, there was preliminary evidence that greater affectionate touch in romantic relationships predicts greater support seeking behavior and that perceiving one’s partner to be more responsive to them may potentiate the influence of affectionate touch on emotional and practical support seeking behavior. Study 2 confirmed that daily affectionate touch experiences are also associated with greater support seeking behavior. However, perceived partner responsiveness on the daily level appears to be an independent predictor of support seeking. In Study 1, self-efficacy was not a mediating factor, and motivations for providing touch and the type of relationship were not moderating factors. Finally, it does not appear that affectionate touch buffers the impact of stress on these tested health behaviors and coping behaviors. This dissertation is the first project to assess how affectionate touch experiences in close relationships relate to health behavior and coping in an effort to improve our understanding of the broader link between affectionate touch and wellbeing and, in doing so, provides important insight into the ways affectionate touch may promote adaptive coping behavior to enhance well-being which has implications for future research and intervention work.



Psychology, Social