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.