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Warm hands, feelings may be linked

October 24, 2008
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New research from Yale University, to be published today in the journal Science, shows that physical warmth is strongly linked to the way we interpret our feelings toward other people.

Holding a hot beverage, according to experiments led by Lawrence Williams is more likely to make us to view a new person in a positive light, while holding an ice-cold beverage causes us to see that same person as unfriendly.

Before now, social scientists have guessed that there's a connection between physical warmth and emotional perception. The word "warm," after all, can describe both temperature as well as the way we imagine a friendly, sociable person, whereas "cold" generally reflects someone who is aloof or unsocial. Often, physical cues, such as warmth and cold, may guide our decisions and interpretations of other people without our knowledge.

To test the influence of physical temperature on emotional interaction, Williams and colleagues designed an experiment that began with participants arriving at a fourth-floor laboratory to answer a questionnaire. While ascending in the elevator, each participant encountered a researcher who asked for help holding either a hot or cold drink. After the elevator ride, participants "met" a fictional person described on paper, and were asked to rate various qualities about the person, including sociability and generosity.

Researchers found that people who held the hot beverage on the elevator ride were more likely to rate a person as sociable and generous, whereas people who held the cold beverage rated the same person as more selfish and antisocial.

"People may not necessarily be aware of how they make social decisions," Williams said. "This study is helping us to understand how the physical environment can shape our judgments of other people."

SUSHRUT JANGI

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