Touch influences social judgements and decisions

APPLYING for a job? The weight of the clipboard to which your CV is attached may influence your chances of getting it. Negotiating a deal? Sitting in a hard chair may lead you to drive a harder bargain. Those are two of the surprising conclusions of a study published in today’s issue of Science, which shows that the physical properties of objects we touch can unconsciously influence our first impressions of other people and the decisions we make about them.

Josh Ackerman of the Sloan School of Management at MIT, and psychologists Chris Nocera and John Bargh of Harvard and Yale Universities, respectively, performed a series of six experiments designed to investigate whether or not the weight, texture and hardness of objects can influence our judgements of, and decisions about, unrelated events and situations. Their findings provide yet more evidence for the embodied cognition hypothesis, which states that bodily perceptions can exert a strong influence on the way we think.

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The social thermometer: Temperature affects how we perceive relationships

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.

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