A human touch can have profound effects on how you are feeling. This particularly applies when you are in stress and someone wants to calm you down by means of touches and calming words. At TNO, we wanted to investigate whether a calming touch of a robot during a stressful situation could also decrease people’s arousal levels.
In one of our labs at TNO, we invited participants to watch a scary movie with a robot. During the movie, the robot would speak calming words to the participants and in the ‘touch condition’, these calming words were accompanied by a stroke over the shoulder and upper arm of the participant. During the experiments, we wanted to investigate whether a touch of a robot could indeed physically calm the participant more than only calming words. To find this out, we measured several physiological parameters such as heart rate, skin conductance and cortisol levels. Besides the arousal, we were interested in whether and how a touch of a robot could affect the perceived relationship with the robot. Several questionnaires were presented to the participants in order to find this out. Finally, we were interested in whether a touch of a robot could increase the willingness of the participant to comply with a request (as is usually the case with human touches). After the movie, the participant received a 5 Euro bonus in coins, after which the robot asked the participant to donate a part of this bonus to charity.