A body map of the places it is inappropriate to touch someone in social situations

Fist bump, kiss on the cheek... maybe even a bear hug? Knowing how to greet people, particularly in socially conservative Britain, can be a bit of nightmare.

But in the biggest study ever undertaken into bodily contact, researchers from the University of Oxford and Aalto University in Finland have discovered that it's almost always best to go for a good old-fashioned handshake instead of a more experimental greeting like a double-kiss on the cheek.

The researchers asked more than 1,300 people from Finland, England, Italy, France and Russia to colour in the parts of the body they would find it acceptable to be touched by others.

The results were then put into the following body maps to show which areas are appropriate and the others which are not:

Graphic: Aalto University/PNAS

The study found that generally "the closer the person in social relationship, the larger the body area this person is allowed to touch". Areas marked in black are seen as strictly off limits.

Professor Robin Dunbar, the evolutionary psychologist who led the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explains:

We interpret touch depending on the context of the relationship. We may perceive a touch in a particular place from a relative or friend as a comforting gesture, while the same touch from a partner might be more pleasurable, and from a stranger it would be entirely unwelcome.

I would guess that kissing a stranger on the cheek would still make a lot of people uncomfortable. But with modern life it has become as conventional as a handshake and so no longer seems overly-familiar, especially if you have been introduced by a friend.

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