Individual Differences in Conversational Self-Touch Frequency Correlate with State Anxiety

Hio Tong Pang, Feride Canarslan, Mingyuan Chu* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Self-touches are frequently performed in everyday conversations. Although self-touch appears to relate to itching skin sensations or grooming needs, there has been cumulating evidence that the production of self-touch is associated with emotional regulation and cognitive control. Yet, individuals vary greatly in how often they perform self-touch in conversations. The present study investigated how individuals’ anxiety levels (i.e., state and trait anxiety), personality traits (i.e., neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness), and inhibition ability can contribute to the individual differences in conversational self-touch frequency. Spontaneous self-touch was elicited from a hundred and twenty-seven participants in an animated cartoon description task and a social dilemma-solving task. Results from the correlational analysis showed that the self-touch frequency was significantly positively related to individuals’ state and trait anxiety levels and their neuroticism scores but was significantly negatively related to their agreeableness scores. However, when all predictor variables were entered simultaneously into a multiple regression analysis, the result showed that the state anxiety score was the only significant predictor of the conversational self-touch frequency. This result is consistent with the proposal that self-touch behaviors are produced to regulate negative emotional states such as anxiety and stress. The findings of the present study shed new light on the function of self-touch behaviors in conversations, and highlight the importance of using a broad correlational approach with simultaneous consideration of multiple predictors in future research aiming to understand individual differences in self-touch behaviors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-319
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Nonverbal Behavior
Issue number3
Early online date24 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

We thank Mora Gray, Natalie-Anne Anderson, Lucy Gynn-Poisson, Antonia Kaye, Heather Neave and Madeleine Piller for their help with data collection, and Laura Szabo for her help with the reliability check of self-touch coding.

Data Availability Statement

Supplementary Information
The online version contains supplementary material available at

Availability of Data and Materials
The stimulus materials will be available on request. Video recording data will be available once related manuscripts based on the same data set have been published.


  • Self-touch
  • Anxiety
  • Personality
  • Inhibition
  • Individual differences


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