Types of touch in cross-sex relationships between coworkers: Perceptions of relational and emotional messages, inappropriateness, and sexual harassment

Josephine W. Lee, Laura Guerrero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

38 Scopus citations


This study examined observers' perceptions of nine different types of touch (including a "no touch" control condition) used in cross-sex relationships between coworkers. Results showed that face touch sends particularly strong relational and emotional messages. A soft touch in the cheek area of the face was seen as signaling more affection, attraction, flirtation, and love than the other types of touch. Face touch was also rated as the most inappropriate and sexually harassing of the nine types of touch examined. Arm around the waist was also rated as showing relatively high levels of attraction and flirtation, as well as inappropriateness and harassment. No touch and handshaking conveyed the most formality. Observers rated women as more affectionate, trusting, happy, and composed than men across the touch conditions. Men, however, were judged to be more attracted to their cross-sex partners than were women. These and other findings are discussed to shed light on the multiple interpretations of touch within the context of relationships between cross-sex coworkers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-220
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Applied Communication Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2001



  • Coworker relationships
  • Cross-sex relationships
  • Emotion
  • Sexual harassment
  • Touch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics

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