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Warm Cups Warm Hearts

The Influence of Temperature on Our Behavior and judgments

Philosophers and psychologists have argued for years that the body and the mind are connected, but only in the last decades many experiments were conducted and demonstrated how strong this link is. Embodied cognition is the theory that shows how our cognitions and emotions are grounded in our physical sensations. In my new book, Sensation, the new Science of Physical sensation (Atria 2014) I describe many studies that show how our physical sensations, the texture and the temperature of the things we touch, the colors around us, the things we smell, influence our decisions, behavior and emotions, without our awareness. Today I will talk about temperature.

Two researchers from Yale University, Williams and Bargh conducted an extremely interesting study. In this study participants were invited to come to a lab to answer a questionnaire. This sounds pretty standard. But the clever part was that the participants were unaware that the experiment started before they had even entered the lab. Each participant was accompanied by a research assistant in the elevator. The assistant had her hands full, so at one point she asked the participant to hold her cup of coffee for a few seconds, while she wrote their name.

Now- with half the participants, the coffee was hot, while for the other half it was an iced coffee. Later in the lab, they were asked to a rate a person they never met on various characteristics. The amazing discovery was that those who held the warm cup of coffee in the elevator, rated that person as more generous, good natured and caring (in other words, what we call a warm person), than those who held the iced coffee. Now remember, this was after holding the drink for only a few quick seconds. Most importantly- none of them were aware that the cup of coffee influenced their judgment.

The researchers conducted another experiment to examine whether the temperature of the things we touch influence our behavior. In this experiment they asked participants to hold either a warm or a cold therapeutic pad in an ostensibly marketing study. They were then offered a reward for their participation and could choose between a gift for themselves or a gift for a friend. Those who held the warm product chose more often a gift for a friend than those who held the cold product. In other words, they were more generous. Amazing!

Other studies showed that touching a warm object enhanced the trust in other people.

It seems then that metaphors such as a warm person, a warm behavior, a cold heart are more than just figure of speech. Touching something warm can really influence the way we judge others and the way we behave.

These findings are very important and have direct implications to almost every aspect of our life, both personal and professional. They have implications to our business negotiations as well as our conversations with our children, partners and friends. Remember these findings next time you are going to have a conversation with your boss about your salary, or have a serious talk with your child or partner or you are going on a date. Make sure to serve hot tea or coffee rather than a cold beverage. It might tip the scale in your favor.