Tracking changes in touch desire and touch avoidance before and after the COVID-19 outbreak

Yusuke Ujitoko, Takumi Yokosaka, Yuki Ban, Hsin Ni Ho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Touch is essential for survival, social bonding, and overall health. However, the COVID-19 pandemic calls for an abrupt withdrawal from physical contact, and the prolonged lockdown has left many people in solitude without touch for months. This unprecedented dissociation from touch has cast a shadow on people's mental and physical well-being. Here we approached the issue by examining COVID-19's impact on people's touch attitudes. We analyzed people's desire and avoidance for animate and inanimate targets based on large-scale Japanese Twitter posts over an 8-year span. We analyzed the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak with the difference-in-differences estimation method, which can estimate the impact while accounting for other changes over time such as seasonality or long-term effects. As a result, we found that people's desire for touching the human body and pet animals increased significantly after the COVID-19 outbreak and remained high afterward. In contrast, the avoidance of touching everyday objects (e.g., doorknobs and money) increased immediately after the outbreak but gradually returned to the pre-COVID-19 levels. Our findings manifest the impact of COVID-19 on human touch behavior. Most importantly, they highlight the sign of “skin hunger,” a public health crisis due to social distancing, and call attention to the trend that people are becoming less aware of infection control as COVID-19 persists.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1016909
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


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