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Haptics: The Science of Touch & Printing

Touch is a fundamental need. Scientist Harry Harlow performed a series of tests and demonstrated how important touch is in nature. The tests he performed exhibited a primal need for touch, also known as haptics, that expanded our understanding of how touch shapes our brains. Touching things trigger reactions in our bodies and how we feel about an object. When we feel we own an object we place more value on the object but if the object isn’t ours then a lower value is placed on it. This is called the Endowment Effect. For example, touching a paper catalog shifts the brain into “ownership imagery” causing a possessiveness of the object itself.

How can this be translated to the print world? People have a greater understanding of what they read on paper. The brain is shaped by developing the media in which the written messages are delivered. Studies show that people read the best when content is on paper, a tangible median. These studies showed that when a subject reads, it is best on paper for 3 reasons:

It makes content more intuitively navigable

It facilitates better mental “mapping” of information

Reading on paper drains fewer of our cognitive resources, making retention a little easier.

When we read on paper we process information differently, sustaining a deeper level of interest. Paper directs attention and produces a higher recall rate. A study tested the effects of touch and paper quality and found that when subjects held and read about a fictitious company on heavy, high quality coated paper they understood and remembered more content than when reading about another fictitious company on lighter lower quality paper or on a computer screen.

Haptics is any form of interacting involving touch. In printing, this can include the weight, grade & texture of paper. It can also include special coatings & finishes. So when designing your next direct marketing project take into account how each of these elements will affect the recipients perception of your mailed piece and your brand as a whole.

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