When Was the Last Time You Were Truly Touched?

June 16, 2022

When Was the Last Time You Were Truly Touched?

May 29, 2023

One of our MEA alums, Liz Gebhardt, is in a class at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which was started by MEA guest faculty member Dacher Keltner. Dacher describes an experiment he and his colleagues did:

1. We built a barrier in our lab that separated two strangers from each other. One person stuck his or her arm through the barrier and waited. The other person was given a list of emotions, and he or she had to try to convey each emotion through a one-second touch to the stranger's forearm. The person whose arm was being touched had to guess the emotion.

2. Given the number of emotions being considered, the odds of guessing the right emotion by chance were about eight percent. But remarkably, participants guessed compassion correctly nearly 60 percent of the time. Gratitude, anger, love, fear—they got those right more than 50 percent of the time as well.

3. We had various gender combinations in the study, and I feel obligated to disclose two gender differences we found: When a woman tried to communicate anger to a man, he got zero right—he had no idea what she was doing. And when a man tried to communicate compassion to a woman, she didn't know what was going on!

4. But obviously, there's a bigger message here than "men are from Mars and women are from Venus." Touch provides its own language of compassion, a language that is essential to what it means to be human. In fact, in other research, I've found that people can not only identify love, gratitude, and compassion from touches but can differentiate between those kinds of touch, something people haven't done as well in studies of facial and vocal communication.

Our alum Liz wonders what the results would be with an MEA cohort on Day 1 and then again on Day 6 or 7? While emotions are very present in our MEA workshops, I'd rarely thought of our workshops as a course in feelings—Emotions 101.

As adults, we're familiar with the term "mixed emotions," which describe the conflicted feelings we sometimes have when facing complicated experiences. But, just as wisdom is the distillation of many inputs to understand what's truly essential, EQ is about discerning the emotional wheat from the chaff, especially with people different from you (as in the experiment above).

Author John Keats wrote, "Touch has a memory." I couldn't agree more, especially when someone touches your heart. That's what makes MEA so unusual…and so necessary in a world in which we have so little time to touch or be touched.

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