Affection is universal, but the meaning of signs of affection vary in different cultures. Even within a single culture, the meaning of a sign of affection depends on a host of factors. Age, gender, social status and race can change the meanings of signs of affection. Since signs of affection are important to etiquette, relationships, business and even politics, it is important to know what you are conveying.
The meaning of the kiss can range from passionate romance to an expression of love between parent and child. The parent-child kiss is usually light and quick, with pursed lips, according to the Washington State University essay "The Kiss." The same source reports that the Romans were among the first to adopt and dwell on the romantic or erotic kiss by documenting it. One theory about the origin and symbolism of the kiss is that it represented the union of souls through the intermingling of breath, just as in the Christian narrative of God breathing the spirit of life into Adam. The kiss can also serve a political function, such as the ceremonial kiss practised by heads of states and dignitaries in Europe and elsewhere. This quick kiss on each side of the face symbolises mutual good will, according to the essay.
Other signs of affection are also commonly used as greetings, and as such make an impact on first impressions. That is why so much importance is often attached to the handshake, especially as exchanged in business or at a job interview. A firm handshake grip indicates confidence, while a limp one may indicate timidity. Rules are different for women, however, who are permitted to be more gentle, according to Changing Minds.org, a website by David Straker, author of "Changing Minds: in Detail."
Like the kiss, the hug can be affectionate or erotic depending on the style, including length of time and what parts of the body are involved. Hugs indicate greater closeness and affection as a greeting than handshakes and are more common between friends. Hugging is less common in the United States between men than between women, according to Changing Minds.org.
There are other non-verbal signs of affection besides touching. In an April 24, 2005, article in Sexual Health.com titled “Sizing Up That Look of Love,” E.J. Mundell reports on research about the meanings of the gaze. A study led by Dartmouth College psychology graduate student Malia Mason found that men may consider women who avert their eyes less attractive, while both men and women may find women who avert their eyes less likable. According to Beverly Palmer, a professor of psychology at California State University who was interviewed for the article, one thing that is certain is that eye contact is part of charm. However, according to Palmer, looking away at proper intervals is also part of good eye contact, because to hold a gaze too long can signal hostility.