Life Lesson from the World's Largest Physical-Contact Study Ever: Don't Touch Strangers

Keep your hands to yourself—unless you actually know the person.

Yellow, Text, Orange, Colorfulness, Line, Amber, Font, Parallel, Rectangle, Peach,
(Image credit: Oxford University)

Ever have a boss who was a little too touchy-feely around your back and shoulders? Or gotten a hug from a friend that lasted too long?

Oxford University scientists investigated how comfortable people are being touched. In the largest-ever study on physical contact, they asked nearly 1,500 men and women from Britain, Finland, France, Italy, and Russia to color in human body outlines to show which parts they would allow someone to touch, front and back.

Not surprisingly, they found that the more you know someone, the more likely you are to be happy to be touched by him or her.

Erogenous zones, however, were out of bounds to all but partners, with one exception.

Men indicated they were comfortable with female strangers touching any part of their body, even their genitals. In fact, a woman they barely know has "touching rights" similar to a parent and more than a sibling, according to the journal Proceedings of the Royal Academy of Sciences.

By comparison, women were only at ease with male strangers touching their hands.

On the other hand, women welcomed touches from friends more than men did. And men reacted negatively to all touches from male strangers, even on the head or the feet.

Brits were found to be the least tolerant of touching, Finns were the most open to it. Italians were only marginally more comfortable with touching than the British.

Aalto University researcher Julia Suvilehto said touch helps humans maintain social relationships.

"The greater the pleasure caused by touch a specific area of the body, the more selectively we allow others to touch it."

Follow Marie Claire on Instagram for the latest celeb news, pretty pics, funny stuff, and an insider POV.