Body, Meet Mind

The social side of embodied cognition

Crowdfunding Embodied Cognition Research

Embodiment for health benefits!

In a previous post I talked a little bit about how people think about social relations. In an earlier post, I discussed the relation between social exclusion and the drop of skin temperature. Our own reasoning for these effects are based on a more extensive literature in a field called embodied cognition. In this post, I will discuss how you can determine the future of my posts, and how you can contribute to embodied cognition research for the benefit of society. 

As I mentioned in this previous post, and as was obvious from the responses by Laura Merritt, Dr. Hellmann, Mangenot, Claudia, Guilherme Morbey, Sindhuja, Pelin Kesebir, Linh Phan, Eftychia Stamkou, Leo Zang, and Frank Helena, metaphors that mix physical and social warmth occur in many different language families in the world. It may thus not be surprising that a brief stimulation of physical warmth (like holding a warm cup) can sort important effects in people's social cognitions. 

I alluded to these effects a bit in the previous post, and discuss them elsewhere as well, but putting people in physically warmer conditions has enormous implications on the way that we think about others and how we feel about and act towards others. The Yale psychologists Williams and Bargh were the first ones to uncover these effects. When they let participants hold a warm cup, the participants judged others to be more sociable (characteristic of the personality dimension 'warm'). Further, when participants briefly had a warm pack in their necks, they themselves became more generous!

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We (and others) extended these effects afterwards. In a 2009 paper, we report effects that putting people in a warm room instills cognitions related to relationships known as communal sharing relationships (see my previous post on what there relationships are). That is, people saw more relationships in their environment and saw others as psychologically closer to themselves. Furthermore, other researchers and we found reminding people of exclusion or of feeling psychologically distant from others let's them think of the temperature as being lower. Finally, our more recent research reveals that these effects particularly hold for people who are seurely attached. Children who were securely attached were more generous in warm conditions (versus cold conditions). This effect was absent for insecurely attached children, presumably because insecurely attached children do not have the association between a secure, caring environment of the parents with the physical warm touch of the caregiver.

And this latter part seems to be the crux. It seems to be that people's predispositions towards seeking a warm touch is vital in the research that has been conducted on the embodiment of social relations. In our own research, we have started to become interested in the function of warmth in social interactions. Fortunately enough, we were not the only ones, and a lot of interesting studies have been conducted already. Most generally, we know already that good relationships improve health and longevity, on almost all measures that have been used for this. More concretely, Julianne Holt-Lunstad and her colleagues find that a warm touch intervention may decrease people's stress levels. One of the 'coolest' studies I know is by Jim Coan and his colleagues, who find that if they let participants experience mild stress, brain area activation related to stress is less when people held the hand of someone else. 

Now we are seeking to extend these findings on touch in operative contexts for our research in the near future. Because of warmth is so vital to social relations, and if it has such beneficial effects on stress reduction, we anticipate it to have important effects in contexts where stress matters: Right before surgery. And you can help. One of my interns, Elsemiek Nabben, has set up a crowdfunding project to make this happen. You can find our project and an extensive description here

There are several different ways you can help us:

  • Donate! (preferably as much as possible, but there are really cool perks that you can get! I will describe one below)
  • Spread the word. Even if you cannot donate, if more people know about it, more people get the chance to donate. Maybe some people in your network feel closely related to our work?
  • Talk to me on twitter (@hansijzerman) about the research! We would love to hear feedback and hear what you think!

There are a couple of cool perks. For example, you can get a free download of our iPhone app. Or, you can determine my next posts for Psychology Today. There are a couple of guidelines for this. First, the topic needs to be on embodied cognition. Second and obviously, no profanities and within legal limits. Are you going to determine what I will write about?

Hans IJzerman, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in social psychology at the University of Tilburg, where he investigates why the body makes people so social.

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