I wanna hold your hand: Handholding is preferred over gentle stroking for emotion regulation

Haran Sened, Chen Levin, Manar Shehab, Naomi Eisenberger, Simone Shamay-Tsoory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social touch is an important form of interpersonal emotion regulation. In recent years, the emotion regulation effects of two types of touch have been studied extensively: handholding and stroking (specifically of skin with C-tactile afferents on the forearm, i.e. C-touch). While some studies compare their effectiveness, with mixed results, no study to date has examined which type of touch is subjectively preferred. Given the potential bidirectional communication provided by handholding, we hypothesized that to regulate intense emotions, participants would prefer handholding. In four pre-registered online studies (total N = 287), participants rated handholding and stroking, presented in short videos, as emotion regulation methods. Study 1 examined touch reception preference in hypothetical situations. Study 2 replicated Study 1 while also examining touch provision preferences. Study 3 examined touch reception preferences of participants with blood/injection phobia in hypothetical injection situations. Study 4 examined types of touch participants who have recently given birth recalled receiving during childbirth and their hypothetical preferences. In all studies, participants preferred handholding over stroking; participants who have recently given birth reported receiving handholding more than stroking. This was especially evident in Studies 1-3 in emotionally intense situations. These results demonstrate that handholding is preferred over stroking as a form of emotion regulation, especially in intense situations, and support the importance of two-way sensory communication for emotion regulation via touch. We discuss the results and possible additional mechanisms, including top-down processing and cultural priming.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0284161
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Sened et al.


  • Emotional Regulation
  • Emotions/physiology
  • Humans
  • Physical Stimulation/methods
  • Skin
  • Stroke
  • Touch Perception/physiology
  • Touch/physiology


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