The comfort in touch: Immediate and lasting effects of handholding on emotional pain

Razia S. Sahi, MacRina C. Dieffenbach, Siyan Gan, Maya Lee, Laura I. Hazlett, Shannon M. Burns, Matthew D. Lieberman, Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory, Naomi I. Eisenberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Consoling touch is a powerful form of social support that has been repeatedly demonstrated to reduce the experience of physical pain. However, it remains unknown whether touch reduces emotional pain in the same way that it reduces physical pain. The present research sought to understand how handholding with a romantic partner shapes experiences of emotional pain and comfort during emotional recollection, as well as how it shapes lasting emotional pain associated with emotional experiences. Participants recalled emotionally painful memories or neutral memories with their partners, while holding their partner's hand or holding a squeeze-ball. They additionally completed a follow-up survey to report how much emotional pain they associated with the emotional experiences after recalling them in the lab with their partners. Although consoling touch did not reduce emotional pain during the task, consoling touch increased feelings of comfort. Moreover, participants later recalled emotional memories that were paired with touch as being less emotionally painful than those that were not paired with touch. These findings suggest that touch does not decrease the immediate experience of emotional pain and may instead support adaptive processing of emotional experiences over time.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0246753
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Sahi et al.


  • Adult
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Touch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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