Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Warmer it Feels, the Warmer You Are

Show me the love.  The end of the vacation period in Paris brings the surly out in the usually surly Parisian, seen daily in full glory on the Paris metro.  A new study conducted by Yale University researchers, however, suggests a possible panacea :  simply touching something warm may make you feel and act more warmly towards others.

The researchers asked student participants to hold either a hot or iced cup of coffee and then to imagine the personality traits of a fictitious person.  Those holding the hot coffee rated the person as more generous, sociable, and good-natured than those who held the cold coffee - all of which are characteristics psychologists associate with warmth.  Taking the research a step further, the researchers had other student volunteers briefly hold one of those heat or ice pads sold in drugstores for pain, allegedly as part of product-testing.  The students later were given the option of a small gift as a thank you for participating: they could choose either an ice-cream coupon or bottled drink for themselves, or one for a friend.  Students who held the hot pad were more likely to choose a reward for a friend, whereas those who held the ice pad were more likely to choose a reward for themselves.

According to the principal investigator Lawence Williams (now at the University of Colorado), the findings suggest that people are more sensitive to cues in their physical environments than we might think: "We shouldn't underestimate the importance of our surroundings in shaping our thoughts, feelings, and actions."  In fact, physical and psychological concepts "are much more closely aligned in the mind than we have previously appreciated." 

It's interesting to consider the consumer behavior and marketing implications of the research.  According to Williams, free food samples distributed in grocery stores probably entice more shoppers if they are warm.  Consider also that there already are relatively inexpensive hand warmers on the market - little sacs that you heat in water prior to going out in the cold, which you can then put in your coat pockets and use as a handy way of keeping your hands nice and toasty (assuming they effectively work).  Perhaps a new product tagline:  'Warm your hands and your heart at the same time.'  And as Paris commuters shift more and more from hard-copy books, newspapers, and magazines to electronic versions, perhaps as their portable devices warm up through use, so too will my fellow countrymen.


"Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth" by Lawrence E. Williams and John A. Bargh.  Science, 2008, vol. 322, no. 5,091.

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