Athletes who are on a winning streak often claim that they perceive their targets to be bigger than they actually are. After a run of birdies, for example, golfers sometimes say that the cup appeared to be the size of a bucket, and baseball players who have a hit a few home runs say that the ball is the size of a grapefruit. Conversely, targets are often reported to be smaller than they actually are by athletes who are performing badly.
Research carried out in the past 5 years suggests that these are more than just anecdotes, and that performance in sports can actually affect perception. A new study by psychologists at Purdue University now lends more weight to this, by providing evidence that success rate in American football field goals affects how the size of the goal posts is perceived.
LANGUAGE contains many sayings which link our feelings and behaviour towards others to temperature. We might, for example, hold “warm feelings” for somebody, and extend them a “warm welcome”, while giving somebody else “the cold shoulder” or “an icy stare”. Why is that we have so many metaphors which relate temperature to social distance? According to George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, we judge others on the basis of warmth because abstract concepts, such as affection, are firmly grounded in bodily sensations.
There is evidence for Lakoff’s hypothesis, which shows that these sayings are more than just metaphors. Last year, a study by psychologists from the University of Toronto showed that participants who recalled an experience in which they felt socially excluded gave lower estimates of room temperature than participants who recalled a social inclusion experience. Hans Ijzerman and Gün R. Semin of Utrecht University now show that the opposite is also true. In a paper published in Psychological Science, they report that temperature affects the perception of social relations and the language used to describe them.