Research interests

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

My main research interest is social interaction, particularly paradigms and practices related to social touching behaviour.

There's surprisingly little that we 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? I'm studying these questions using many different methods, such as asking people, imaging their brains, and gathering data of people's touching behavior as they go about their daily lives.

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. Or maybe you'd like to participate in an online experiment or two?

Selected publications

You can get full text pdf's 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).

Nummenmaa, L., Suvilehto, J., Glerean, E., Santtila, P., & Hietanen, J.K. (2016). Topography of human erogenous zones. Archives of Sexual Behaviour. Advance online publication. 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]

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]


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


We often run online experiments, where you can participate by answering a few easy questions. All of the active studies are listed at the Human Emotion Systems lab web page

Contact Me

  • juulia dot suvilehto (at) aalto dot fi
  • @JSuvilehto
  • Aalto University
    School of Science
    Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering
    P.O. Box 12200