Perceived cultural acceptability and comfort with affectionate touch: Differences between Mexican Americans and European Americans

Mary H. Burleson, Nicole A. Roberts, David W. Coon, José A. Soto

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29 Scopus citations


Ethnographic descriptions suggest that cultures differ in the extent to which they value physical touch and its acceptability in different kinds of social relationships. For example, compared to European American (EA) culture, Mexican culture is described as placing greater emphasis on warm interpersonal interactions, in which touch may play an important part. We tested this notion empirically by assessing attitudes about touch among 271 Mexican American (MA; 208 female) and 578 EA (434 female) college students. Specifically, we examined potential ethnic group differences in (1) participants’ perception of the acceptability of affectionate touch (AT) within their cultures, depending on the relationship (close others vs. acquaintances) and setting (private vs. public) in which the touch occurs; and (2) participants’ own personal comfort with AT. Among MAs, we examined associations between touch attitudes and acculturation. As predicted, MAs reported greater cultural acceptability of AT with acquaintances (but not close others) and in public (but not private) settings than did EAs. Participants’ own comfort with AT was greater for both MA men and EA women than for EA men. Further, higher perceived cultural acceptability of AT predicted greater personal comfort with AT in both ethnic groups. Finally, among MAs, greater acculturation predicted less comfort with AT. Together, these results lend support to the notion that MA ethnocultural norms encourage AT in nonintimate contexts to a greater degree than EA norms, particularly for men, and that personal attitudes about AT are largely congruent with these norms. They also call attention to cross-cultural similarities in attitudes about touch in more intimate contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1000-1022
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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