Tim Brockley/Flickr

Some people really hate hugs, apparently.

Do you greet a stranger by kissing them on the cheek or giving them a firm handshake?

In the largest study ever quantifying where people were comfortable being touched and by whom, 1,300 men and women were asked the same question. The results suggest that when greeting most people, you’re better off with a handshake.

The participants, from Finland, France, Italy, Russia, and the U.K., detailed where strangers, family members, friends, and romantic partners were allowed to touch them. Researchers from the University of Oxford and Finland’s Aalto University then combined the results to create a so-called “heat map.”

(University of Oxford and Finland’s Aalto University)

For almost everyone, the hands are okay. Unsurprisingly, no one wanted relatives of any gender to touch their genitals. And, regardless of nationality, researchers found that the closeness of the relationship correlated with the range of areas that can be touched. There were, however, some unexpected results.

Robin Dunbar, an Oxford University professor who co-authored the study, tells Quartz: “We were a bit surprised at how reluctant men were [to be touched] compared to women.” The heat map showed that men weren’t even comfortable with other male strangers touching the back of their heads—it was a “taboo zone.”

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, highlighted the importance of touch in communicating positive emotions. Humans are quite similar to monkeys and apes in that respect, where touch is crucial in establishing and maintaining social bonds.

There weren’t a significant number of cultural differences when it came to where participants would allow family, friends and strangers to touch them; but some nationalities were less enthusiastic about touching than others. True to their stereotype, British participants were right at the bottom on the touchability index.

To the researchers’ surprise, Italians were less comfortable with being touched than Russians.

“We hadn’t expected the Finns to turn out to be the most cuddly people,” Dunbars says, “or that the Italians are almost as uncuddly as the Brits.”

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

More from Quartz:

The Woman Who Reviewed 30,000 Books on Amazon

Math Scores Are Slipping Among American Students

There’s a Good Chance the “Wild” Salmon You Just Ordered Was Actually Farmed

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A man and a woman shop at a modern kiosk by a beach in a vintage photo.
    Design

    Why Everyday Architecture Deserves Respect

    The places where we enact our daily lives are not grand design statements, yet they have an underrated charm and even nobility.

  2. A chef prepares food at a restaurant in Beijing, China.
    Life

    What Restaurant Reviews Reveal About Cities

    Where official census data is sparse, MIT researchers find that restaurant review websites can offer similar demographic and economic information.

  3. A photo of anti-gentrification graffiti in Washington, D.C.
    Equity

    The Hidden Winners in Neighborhood Gentrification

    A new study claims the effects of neighborhood change on original lower-income residents are largely positive, despite fears of spiking rents and displacement.

  4. The legs of a crash-test dummy.
    Transportation

    A Clue to the Reason for Women’s Pervasive Car-Safety Problem

    Crash-test dummies are typically models of an average man. Women are 73 percent more likely to be injured in a car accident. These things are probably connected.

  5. Environment

    How ‘Corn Sweat’ Makes Summer Days More Humid

    It’s a real phenomenon, and it’s making the hot weather muggier in the American Midwest.

×