If you struggle to know when it is appropriate to give someone a hug or even simply pat them on the arm, help is at hand. Oxford University scientists have created a series of body maps that show just where we are comfortable to be touched.

The 'touchability index' provides colour-coded information for everyone from our nearest and dearest to extended family, casual acquaintances and complete strangers.

Almost 1,500 men and women from Britain, Finland, France, Italy and Russia were given a series of outlines of the human body and asked to colour in which parts they would allow someone to touch, front and back. Each person created touchability maps for 13 members of their social network, including their partner, their parents, their siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and acquaintances. They also coloured in two more shapes, one for a stranger of each sex.

Not surprisingly, the study of five European countries found that buttoned-up Britons were the least touchy-feely. It also showed that the less we know someone, the less comfortable we are to be touched by them.

Despite the tactile reputation, the Italians were only slightly more comfortable with touching than the British. The Finns were the most relaxed about being touched. However, the differences were small and the results were broadly similar across all the countries studied.