In fact, many people surveyed said that their level of human touch during the pandemic has decreased for both their inner circle (family, partners or close friends) and outer circle (colleagues, acquaintances, neighbors). More than a third said that inner circle touch has decreased, while 40% said that outer circle touch has decreased. The decrease in outer circle touch is to be expected, as more people isolate and limit their physical contact to those in their household. Decreases in touch among the inner circle may at first seem counterintuitive, but not when you consider the number of people who live with elderly, immunocompromised or other people who would be at high risk should they get sick, and the fact that most people do not live in the same household with their close friends. Additionally, places like Italy, South Africa and South Korea, where lockdown measures were strictly enforced, have seen significant decreases in the amount of touch within inner but especially their outer social circles. In Italy, more than half of respondents said that their level of outer circle physical touch had decreased since last year. In South Korea, 49% of respondents indicated a decrease, and in South Africa, 46%. South Korea, in particular, is noteworthy because they engaged in less touch than other countries to begin with – making their decreases in touch even more dramatic.
Surprisingly, however, around half of the people surveyed said that their level of human touch during the pandemic has not changed significantly. 46% of respondents globally said that the amount of inner circle touch they experience has not changed in the past year, while 51% said that outer circle touch has not changed. To understand why, we have to look closer at the data, which reveals noteworthy geographic differences in touch behavior. In Germany, Australia, the UK and the U.S., touch behavior has changed less than in other countries. Despite the severity of the outbreaks, fewer people reported changes in the amount of touch they shared with their outer circle, compared to other countries. In Germany, nearly two-thirds of people said their level of outer circle touch had not changed in the past year. In Australia, the UK and the U.S., more than half of respondents said the same. One explanation is that these countries are not “touch friendly” cultures to begin with. We know from our previous global survey that Germany, the UK, Australia and the US are the least touch-friendly countries, so fewer changes in behavior would be warranted. It’s also possible that, in these countries, skepticism about the severity of the pandemic and the necessity of lockdown regulations has translated to fewer observable changes in touch behavior.
Finally, for some groups, the level of human touch has actually increased during the pandemic. People living in households with at least one child, and young people aged 16-19 were nearly twice as likely to report increases in inner circle touch compared to other groups – not surprising given that many families are spending more time together at home. However, young people and single parents were also nearly twice as likely to say their outer circle touch has increased, as well. It seems that with these groups, the need for human connection and touch is considerably greater than their fear of catching the virus or passing it on to others, who might be more at risk.