Research interests

I am curious about how humans establish and maintain social bonds.

My PhD research has centered around social interaction, particularly paradigms and practices related to social touching behaviour.

There's a lot that we don't know about how humans use social touch. What do different types of touch mean? How does the meaning change depending on things like who (e.g. mother, stranger, friend) is doing the touching? Or where (e.g. home, office, hospital) the touching occurs? In my PhD I have been studying these questions using many different methods, such as asking people and imaging their brains. My thesis "Maintaining social bonds via touching: A cross-cultural study " is now available online. I also wrote a brief introduction to social touching to give background to anyone interested (only available in Finnish at the moment).

My other research interests include pain and its relationship to experiencing emotions in the body and combining large scale (e.g. online) data collection with more traditional laboratory-based measurements.

Below you can find some of my publications and teaching materials related to social touch, and if you have ideas or questions you can also contact me directly.

Selected publications

You can get full text pdfs of the publications below using the link at the end of the citation. If you'd rather read how the popular media has covered these articles, click on the colorful donut on the left, and you get to a site called Altmetric, which gathers together links to online activity (for example news sites, blogs, twitter and reddit mentions) for each scientific article. The number inside the donut describes the amount of online attention (higher number means more online activity).

Suvilehto, J., Renvall, V., & Nummenmaa, L. (in press) Relationship-specific encoding of social touch in somatosensory and insular cortices. Neuroscience. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2020.09.015. [pdf] [NIfTI files from GLM analyses]

Suvilehto, J., Nummenmaa, L., Harada, T., Dunbar, R.I.M., Hari, R., Turner, R., Sadato, N. & Kitada, R. (2019) Cross-cultural similarity in relationship-specific social touching. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. doi:10.1098/rspb.2019.0467. [pdf] [code] [data]

Heiskanen, T., Leppä, M., Suvilehto, J., Elomaa, M., Akural, E., Larinkoski, T., Jääskeläinen, I., Sams, M., Nummenmaa, L., & Kalso, E. (2019) The opioid agonist remifentanil increases subjective pleasure. British Journal of Anaesthesia. doi:10.1016/j.bja.2019.03.031. [pdf]

Nummenmaa, L., Suvilehto, J., Glerean, E., Santtila, P., & Hietanen, J.K. (2016). Topography of human erogenous zones. Archives of Sexual Behaviour. doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0745-z. [pdf]

Suvilehto, J., Glerean, E., Dunbar, R.I.M., Hari, R., Nummenmaa, L. (2015) Topography of social touching depends on emotional bonds between humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of United States of America doi:10.1073/pnas.1519231112. [pdf]

Conference presentations

My conference posters and presentations are linked below. Usually I plan them to be interactive, i.e. in addition to seeing the poster or slides, I will be there to explain how it all fits together. So please don't hesitate to get in touch if you would like to know more or if you find something less than perfectly clear.

How has cohabiting vs living alone impacted social touch during the COVID-19 pandemic? Preliminary results from an online study

Invited talk at the Social Bridges e-conference 2021 [pdf] [recording of the talk]

Putting the 'social' in social touch

Talk at the International Association for Affective Touch Conference 2019 [pdf]

Acute pain attenuates emotional experience in the body

Open Paper at the 7th Consortium of European Research on Emotion Conference 2018 [pdf]

Social touch is relationship-specific for children and adults

Talk at the 1st International Symposium for Affective Touch in Children and Adolescents 2018 [pdf]

Cultural Universalism in Social Touch

Poster presented at International Association for Affective Touch 2017 and Brain and Mind doctoral program symposium 2017 [pdf]

See also slides from data blitz related to the poster presented at IASAT.

Relationship specific encoding of social touch in the somatosensory cortices?

Poster presented at Society for Neuroscience 2016 [pdf]

Topography of human erogenous zones

Poster presented at Brain and Mind doctoral program symposium 2015 [pdf]

U Can't Touch This

Poster presented at Society for Affective Science 2014 [pdf]


Maintaining social bonds via touching: A cross-cultural study

A doctoral dissertation completed for the degree of Doctor of Science (Technology) [pdf].

The dissertation was approved with the grade "pass with distinction", which is the highest grade for a doctoral thesis at Aalto University.

A brief introduction to social touching also available here [in Finnish].


Spring 2020 Responsible teacher on R for data analysis course at the Doctoral Programme in Food Chain and Health at Helsinki University. Due to COVID-19 this course was carried out exclusively online. The course materials are available here

2016-2017 Visits to Finnish schools as a part of Aalto University's Scientists In Schools outreach project. Slides (in Finnish) available here

19.04.2017 Guest lecture on Touch in Human Communication at Aalto University course Advanced Course on Human Brain Neuroscience (Master's level course). Slides available here

20.04.2016 Guest lecture on Touch in Human Communication at Aalto University course Advanced Course on Human Brain Functioning (Master's level course). Slides available here

Contact Me

  • juulia dot suvilehto (at) iki dot fi
  • @JSuvilehto
  • Center for Social and Affective Neuroscience
    Campus US