Winning Touch: NBA Teams that Touch the Most Win the Most, Study Says

A supportive pat on the back can lead to victory, according to study.

ByABC News
June 9, 2011, 11:39 AM

June 9, 2011 -- A pat on the back, a touch on the arm, could these be the keys to an NBA championship? According to two scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, the answer is yes.

Michael Kraus and Dacher Keltner studied every team in the NBA and found that the teams who touched the most won the most.

Toward the end of game three in the NBA finals, Miami Heat star Chris Bosh turns the ball over and is visibly unhappy exchanging words with a teammate. He gets back on defense and gives that teammate, Dwyane Wade, two reassuring pats.

ABC News studied the game tape with Keltner and Kraus.

"There's one touch and another touch," said Kraus. "It's one of those things where they're communicating, they're together, even though bad things are happening right now during the game."

Over the course of four games, the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat are deadlocked at two games apiece in the NBA finals. Four games into the best-of-seven series, the Mavericks are winning in one key category: touches.

Watch the NBA Finals Tonight on ABC at 9 P.M. ET

According to the Wall Street Journal, Dallas has had 250 "instances of televised contact" compared with Miami's 134. The contact could be as simple as a high-five, as aggressive as a chest bump or as intimate as a butt slap.

"Touch instills trust," Keltner told ABC News. "It contagiously spreads good will; it makes players play better on behalf of each other."

Off the court and in the lab, Kraus and Keltner have shown that humans have a remarkable ability to communicate emotions like love, sympathy, disgust and anger just by touching a stranger's forearm.

The findings hold true even if the person being touched can't see the person doing it.

Touch can trigger the release of oxytocin in the brain, a chemical that induces trust. Researchers say anyone can use the power of trust in everyday life.

For example, giving a repairman a pat on the back might just get the job done quicker.

"That pat on the back will engage a lot of these processes and makes the person want to do better work," said Keltner.

Studies have shown that waitresses who touch customers get better tips, doctors who touch patients receive more favorable reviews, and petition-gatherers who touch passersby get more signatures.

ABC News's Dan Harris decided to test the study on the streets by gathering signatures. He found that 60 percent of the people he touched signed, compared with only 25 percent of the people he didn't touch.

There is one huge caveat. Keltner cautions that there is a right time and place for everything.

"I mean - we always have to have common sense," he said.

When wielded wisely, touch has the potential to be very powerful.

As if to prove this point, back in game three of the NBA finals, just minutes after Chris Bosh gave Dwyane Wade those two reassuring taps, Bosh hit the game-winning basket.