Bar study reveals America's touchy side

By Laura Ingalls

Arizona Daily Wildcat

They may have watched you in your favorite bar.

Two University of Arizona communication doctoral students spent the last two years staking out pubs to observe couples touching and looking at each other. Walid Afifi and Michelle Johnson studied people in bars to determine whether the couples were friends or something more. To preclude any difficulties, they visited the bars early before alcohol could become a factor.

"People avoid talking about relationships," Afifi says, "What other way is there to signal to this person that you're friends?"

After discretely spying on the couples, the two approached the couples and asked a series of questions to see if their assumptions were correct.

They made several surprising discoveries.

Friends and daters alike were seen holding hands and kissing, two behaviors Afifi says he thought were reserved for daters. Head caressing, another action used by intimates, was observed in both types of couples.

Also, there was evidence that men used touch to show others that they were with the woman, while the women performed gestures to show affection or gain support, he says.

"America is supposed to be a 'non-touch' culture. If this is a 'non-touch' culture, I'd hate to see a 'touch' culture," he says.

Monica Longsdorf, an anthropology junior, says there aren't any hard, fast rules about the way friends and daters touch each other.

"I've got friends I've known for 10 years and we'll hold hands and put our arms around each other and there is nothing there," she says.

However, she says misinterpreted signals can doom a friendship.

"A friendship growing into something else runs the risk of losing the friendship. I think in a relationship growing into a friendship, you've got to give the relationship a mourning period before you can be friends," she says.

Afifi and Johnson based their first assumptions on a scale of displays of affection published in 1977 by Desmond Morris, a sociologist.

The students recorded a total of 38 dating couples and 32 friendships in their data. Results from a written survey asking 200 students how they interact with their friends and significant others have yet to be released by Afifi and Johnson.

Read Next Article