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Using interpersonal touch as a means to improve carer and patient relationship

School of Psychology and Sport Science

About the Project

Research Group: Centre for Societies and Groups

Proposed supervisory team: Dr Cathrine Jansson-Boyd ()
Dr Debora Antoniotti de Vasconcelos e Sa (),
Dr Jane Aspell ()

Theme: Consumer Psychology -

Summary of the research project

The focus of this research is to explore relationships between carers and the people they look after. Specifically, the aim is to investigate if interpersonal touch can be used as a means to create a closer relationship between careers and those they care for. The existing literature predominantly focus on ‘practical’ carers touch, i.e. when touch is used to practically care for patients, such as moving them to change bed sheets, giving medication or alike, rather than what we deem a more positive ‘social’ interpersonal touch. Practically based tactile interaction (such as the aforementioned) is reportedly not viewed in a favourable light by either the carer or the person cared for [Watts, 1998] and may refrain carers from engaging in other more positive tactile interaction.

The use of interpersonal touch could help to improve long-term psychological well-being for the person cared for. The importance of tactile input is evident from a plethora of research showing that it can alter perception [Woods & Diamond, 2002; Peck & Childers, 2003; Jansson-Boyd, 2011] and have an important role to play when it comes to connecting emotionally [Rolls et al., 2003]. The link between touch and emotion may also account for the fact that interpersonal touch has been found to have a strong influence on generating responses to requests. This is particularly notable from a study [Eaton et al., 1986] when staff who worked in a care unit for older people were asked to combine verbal encouragement to eat with interpersonal touch. When doing so the older people ate more and consequently consumed more calories and protein. The effect lasted for several days after tactile contact had taken place.

Currently the research literature lacks work on how the role of interpersonal touch can have a positive impact on the relationship between carers and the people they look after. Thus the proposed research will focus on the development of using interpersonal touch as a means to improve carer - patient relationships.

Where you’ll study:

Cambridge -


This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available:

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD ( In the section of the application form entitled ’Outline research proposal’, please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

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