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Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

Every year, museums bear the cost of repairing the damage caused to their artworks by visitors touching them. Why would people want to touch objects they can clearly see? What is it that touch provides that vision does not?

Philosophers, starting with René Descartes, all noted that touch provided ‘a sense of reality’, and made us feel in contact with the external world. By contrast, psychologists have tended to assume that touch has no intrinsic superiority over the other senses.

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Our tendency to ‘fact check’ by touch is common, but remains unexplained: from the biblical account of the doubting apostle Thomas, we now see a ‘Thomas effect’ in cell phones and other new technologies, where people still prefer to press buttons than simply select items on a screen, and in retail where stores let people touch products. In clinical studies, compulsive patients tend to check taps or locks by touch, even though they can see they are closed.

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Now an interdisciplinary group of researchers based at LMU and the School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, published the first scientific evidence that when faced with ambiguous information we trust our fingertips more than our eyes. The report is available in Nature Scientific Reports. (1)

Thomas needed to touch in order to believe.

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Without humans...

But blessed will be the ones who believe without touching.

Yes, you can touch that painting.

But it is more important to let that painting touch you…

See your father from a distance.

Touch his face.

He is crying…

Smile.