Ideas from Literature

September 11, 2012 BY danariely

Not only do I find examples of behavioral economics in literature (see this recent post), sometimes I get research ideas from it. This passage from Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose was one such instance:

Touch. It is touch that is the deadliest enemy of chastity, loyalty, monogamy, gentility with its codes and conventions and restraints. By touch we are betrayed and betray others… an accidental brushing of shoulders or touching of hands… hands laid on shoulders in a gesture of comfort that lies like a thief, that takes, not gives, that wants, not offers, that awakes, not pacifies. When one flesh is waiting, there is electricity in the merest contact.

We already know that touch can change our behavior, for instance, holding something for a few seconds makes us much more likely to buy it. But what about how touch, as slight as described here, changes interpersonal dynamics? How exactly might I test this idea? What might an experiment look like? And could I possibly get approval for it from the Institutional Review Board? More on this soon, I hope…