Propensity to trust shapes perceptions of comforting touch between trustworthy human and robot partners

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


Touching a friend to comfort or be comforted is a common prosocial behaviour, firmly based in mutual trust. Emphasising the interactive nature of trust and touch, we suggest that vulnerability, reciprocity and individual differences shape trust and perceptions of touch. We further investigate whether these elements also apply to companion robots. Participants (n = 152) were exposed to four comics depicting human–human or human–robot exchanges. Across conditions, one character was sad, the other initiated touch to comfort them, and the touchee reciprocated the touch. Participants first rated trustworthiness of a certain character (human or robot in a vulnerable or comforting role), then evaluated the two touch phases (initiation and reciprocity) in terms of interaction realism, touch appropriateness and pleasantness, affective state (valence and arousal) attributed to the characters. Results support an interactive account of trust and touch, with humans being equally trustworthy when comforting or showing vulnerability, and reciprocity of touch buffering sadness. Although these phenomena seem unique to humans, propensity to trust technology reduces the gap between how humans and robots are perceived. Two distinct trust systems emerge: one for human interactions and another for social technologies, both necessitating trust as a fundamental prerequisite for meaningful physical contact.


Original languageEnglish
Article number6747
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2024

External IDs

Scopus 85188232605
ORCID /0009-0001-1210-4080/work/158765317
ORCID /0000-0001-6540-5891/work/158766546
ORCID /0000-0002-9560-2789/work/158767987
PubMed 38514732


Research priority areas of TU Dresden

Subject groups, research areas, subject areas according to Destatis


  • Friends/psychology, Trust/psychology, Humans, Touch, Emotions, Robotics