Children’s Underextended Understanding of Touch

Colleen E. Sullivan, Stacia N. Stolzenberg, Shanna Williams, Thomas D. Lyon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Children screened for sexual abuse are typically asked about touch, but their understanding of the meaning of touch has received little direct study. We asked 4 to 9-year-old children (N = 122; M = 6.00, SD = 1.49; 43% male) Yes-No questions (“Is the boy/girl touching the girl/boy?”/“Are the boy and girl touching?”) or Invitations (“What’s happening in this picture?”) when shown drawings depicting different types of touch: Manual (i.e., with the hand), Nonmanual (i.e., with other body part), Object, and No Touch. In addition to eliciting a greater number of false alarms, Yes-No questions elicited elevated rates of false “no” responses to Object Touch and Nonmanual Touch, without eliciting more true reports of touch than Invitations. Although children’s definitions of touch became less restrictive with age, even 9-year-old children’s understanding of touch often excluded Object Touch, especially when queried through Yes-No questions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)505-514
Number of pages10
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 31 2022


  • Child sexual abuse
  • Children’s underextension
  • Children’s understanding of touch
  • Object touch
  • Question type

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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