The behavioural immune system protects us, but at what cost?

August 16, 2021

NOMIS Awardee Manos Tsakiris published an article in the digital magazine Psyche examining the sociobiological relationship between touch and disgust, and whether the lack of touch during the COVID-19 pandemic could have a damaging effect on social relations.

The behavioural immune system protects us, but at what cost?

Manos Tsakiris (Photo: Ines Njers)

None of our senses has suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic as much as touch. And although this touch deprivation has perhaps been most salient in relation to our separation from family and friends, many of us have also felt the loss of even mundane forms of touch – forms that might even be the foundation for social relations more broadly. We used to open the doors to our workplaces, touched by a hundred other hands every day, and hold them open for someone else without giving it a second thought. We used to shake hands with strangers before we got to know them. We used to pass everyday objects to each other through our hands. No more. Even as lockdowns begin to ease unevenly, we might still bump elbows, wave instead of hug, and obsessively disinfect our hands. Touch remains something of a taboo, something that brings us closer to the risk of serious disease or death.

As many of us literally lost touch with our friends and loved ones, and stopped touching strangers, we endured an unplanned social experiment on skin hunger and touch aversion. Sure, some of us were relieved not to have to shake hands with colleagues, acquaintances and strangers, and might never wish to do so again. For many people, though, this fear of contamination and experience of touch-aversion felt new, and is likely to continue beyond the pandemic.

Continue reading this Psyche article: The behavioural immune system protects us, but at what cost?