Research links physical temperature to social behaviour

IT may be no coincidence so many relationships start with an invitation to “come in for a coffee”, new research suggests.

A study found that merely holding a hot coffee cup leads a person to see others as more generous and caring.

Researchers also discovered that warm hands make people more inclined to give than to receive.

They believe descriptions of “warm” or “cold” people tap into sensations and experiences dating back to an infant’s first contact with its mother.

Psychologists in the US carried out the experiment to test the “warm hands, warm heart” hypothesis.

First, a number of unsuspecting university students were casually asked to hold either a cup of hot coffee or iced coffee while a researcher wrote down information. The students were then asked to assess the personality traits of an individual whose details they were given. Those who had held the hot cup judged the target person to be significantly “warmer”, more generous and caring, than those who had held the cold cup.

In the second part of the study, volunteers were asked to “product test” either icy or hot therapeutic pads used for pain management. After holding the pads for a short time they were allowed to choose either a gift for themselves or for a friend as a reward for taking part in the study. Those who held the hot pad were more likely to want a gift for a friend, while those with cold hands were inclined to choose a reward for themselves.

The findings were reported yesterday in the journal, Science. Co-author Dr Lawrence Williams, from the University of Colorado, said: “The basic scientific implication is about exploring the link between the physical world and the psychological world.

Colleague Professor John Bargh, from Yale University, said: “When we ask whether someone is a warm person or a cold person, they both have a temperature of 98.6

“These terms implicitly tap into the primitive experience of what it means to be warm or cold.”

Imaging studies suggested that the same part of the brain processes both physical and psychological warmth information.

Dr Williams added: “Experiences of physical temperature per se affect one’s impressions of and pro-social behaviour towards other people, without one’s awareness of such influences.

“In a restaurant, it’s been shown that waiting staff who touch customers usually get a better tip. It’s a nice gesture, but it also has a warming effect.”


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